It’s extremely rare that I buy a new cookbook, bring it home from the store, and then cook a recipe from it that very day, with ingredients I just happen to have at home. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s never happened — until this weekend, when I bought Melissa Clark’s “In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite” at my kids’ school book fair.
I was planning on roasting a chicken for dinner. Usually I do this in a Dutch oven (a Cooks Illustrated method), and it works great. But I figured I’d check out what Melissa had to say on the topic, so I cracked open my brand-new cookbook with the chicken already sitting on the counter waiting. As soon as I read the title for the recipe, Garlic and Thyme–Roasted Chicken with Crispy Drippings Croutons, I remembered that a foodie and publishing friend of mine had recommended it a few weeks ago. Since I happened to have a day-old baguette (which I had bought with the intention of bringing it to my sister’s holiday party Saturday night and then forgot it), I decided to try it.
This is one of those brilliantly simple recipes that makes people like me want to scream, “Why didn’t I think of that?!” Basically, all you do is roast the chicken on a layer of bread. The bits of the bread directly under the bird get sort of soft and Yorkshire Pudding-y, and the pieces of bread that were cooked around the edges of the chicken end up crunchy and greasy like the best, chicken-flavored croutons you can imagine. For me, there is no higher compliment for a dish than to call it “delicious comfort food,” and this is definitely that. Plus, it’s very kid friendly and the whole thing took about 5 minutes, plus roasting time, so it’s a perfect Sunday dinner.
By the way, I rounded out last night’s meal with some broccoli tossed with lemon and Parmesan and another recipe from Clark’s book, the Spinach and Avocado Salad with Garlic Mustard Vinaigrette, which was also delicious. I added a few butter lettuce leaves to the salad because I had them and I love butter lettuce with avocados, but stuck to her recipe for the dressing, which tasted better that my usual drizzle of oil and vinegar. I’ll post it tomorrow. This is the kind of cookbook — full of fantastic ideas and easy-to-follow recipes preceded by well-written anecdotes that are actually fun to read — that reminds me why I love cookbooks. Now, I think I’ll consult Nigella or Ina for something to do with last night’s carcass.
Garlic and Thyme–Roasted Chicken with Crispy Drippings Croutons (My comments are in italics, just so you know what’s coming from a New York Times food columnist and what’s from yours truly.)
- Bread (I used a French baguette, but this would also work with whole wheat sandwich bread, leftover dinner rolls, or just about any kind of bread you’ve got, preferably a little stale) cut into 1/2 inch-thick pieces
- 1 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp. Kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1 (4 – 5 pound) chicken, patted dry (Melissa doesn’t say this in her book, but get a happy, free-roaming chicken please; not only is it more humane, the difference in taste is remarkable)
- 1 head of garlic, sliced in half through the cloves (you don’t need to peel it, at least I didn’t)
- 1 bay leaf (oops, I forgot this)
- 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 bunch thyme sprigs (I didn’t have thyme so used fresh basil, rosemary, and parsley.)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (I did 400 degrees because my oven tends to run hot and I was a little nervous about burning the bread.) Lay the bread slices in one layer along the bottom of a heavy-duty roasting pan. If you don’t have a heavy-duty roasting pan (or are using a thin, dark or glass pan) try reducing the oven temp to about 375 and/or putting the roasting pan on top of a thick baking sheet when it goes into the oven; this is to prevent the bread from burning. Drizzle olive oil over the bread and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Rub about 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper inside the cavity of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the garlic, herbs, and lemon (I tied the legs together with kitchen string, but apparently this isn’t necessary.) and sprinkle all over with the remaining salt and pepper. Place the chicken, breast side up, on the bread.
Roast the chicken until it’s deeply browned and the thigh juices run clear when pricked with a knife, about 1 hour 15 mins. (Mine took about 1 hour 25 mins. at 400 degrees.) If at any time, the bread starts to smell burned or begins to smoke, use tongs to pull it out and discard it (just in case the pieces have some undercooked chicken juices on them), but let the chicken continue to cook. When the chicken is done, let it rest for 10 mins. before carving. Serve with the bread from the pan.
In the book, Clark follows this recipe for a variation using chicken parts and spreading the bread with mustard before baking. This sounds fantastic, too, and I plan to try it with the bone-in thighs I have in my freezer.