A year or two ago, I got rid of my roasting pan. Not because I’m anti-roasting pan, or because I needed the space, but because I realized that my roasting pan had a non-stick surface and that I’d been scratching it up with a metal spatula over the years and that there was a teensy, tiny chance I’d been exposing myself and my loved ones to carcinogens whenever I roasted a chicken and that we’re all going to die and it’s all my fault.
So these days, when I roast a chicken, I rely on my largest cast iron skillet. Frankly, I think it works better. And I riff on the beloved Thomas Keller roast chicken recipe, the one I’ve been making for the past eight years, combining assorted root vegetables and potatoes and garlic in the bottom of the pan with a splash of vegetable oil, salt, and pepper, and then topping it with a chicken that I stuff with thyme and garlic, also rub with vegetable oil, before sprinkling with lots of salt and pepper. Only, I’ve been much bolder with a certain ingredient to really make my roast chicken shine. Can you guess what it is?
Scared you, didn’t I? Well I didn’t mean to. It’s funny how many people read my last post and assumed I was ending my blog. That’s not what I said! I just said that my blog was no longer my primary source of income; in many ways, it’s a liberating state of affairs. It means that if I post on here (as I’m doing now) it’s because I have something I’m really eager to share with the world, not just something to fill up space on the internet (like that time I told you that my cake stand is really a punch bowl; though, weirdly, that post really caught on). In any case: chicken under a brick. Have you tried it? If not, why not? I bet I can guess: you’re afraid. I was afraid too. Then, this past Tuesday, I tried it and–I mean this seriously–I don’t think I’ll ever make chicken any other way again.
Let us all acknowledge the truth about roast chicken: it’s not about the chicken, it’s about the vegetables. That truth dawned on me long ago when I used to line a roasting pan with red potatoes sliced in half, all surrounding a well-seasoned chicken; the rendered chicken fat would coat the potatoes, they’d get all crispy, and when it was time to eat, the actual roast chicken was an afterthought. It only got better when I discovered Thomas Keller’s roast chicken: in with the potatoes went leeks, carrots, parsnips, rutabaga, turnips, and suddenly next to that pretty little bird would be vegetables as beautiful as the crown jewels. Now imagine turning those salty, schmaltzy vegetables into soup, a soup that takes about 5 minutes.
Here was the deal: my favorite roast chicken recipe is this one from Thomas Keller. (Sidebar: I’m currently in San Francisco and last night I ate at Zuni, and as I was leaving the bathroom who did I lock eyes with? Thomas Keller. Turns out he goes to the bathroom too; food gods are just like us!) The problem, though, is that the Thomas Keller roast chicken with root vegetables is an event. It requires that you use your roasting pan; it involves a shopping-cart full of turnips, rutabaga, carrots, onions, and potatoes. It’s not really practical for a weeknight. As for my usual weeknight roast chicken, I’d normally wind up putting the chicken in my All-Clad metal skillet so that I could make a sauce in there afterwards (see here), roasting the vegetables separately. That was OK. Then I remembered my trusty friend the cast iron skillet. What if I did the Keller thing in there? What happened next will astound you (how’s that for an UpWorthy paragraph ender?).
A few times now I’ve mentioned the technique of searing a chicken breast–skin-on, bone-in–in a skillet with hot olive oil, skin-side down, flipping it over when golden brown, finishing it in the oven, removing it from the pan and making a sauce with the brown bits on the bottom, something to deglaze those brown bits, and a little butter. See: lemon juice and butter, tangerine juice and butter, etc. There’s another technique, though, that I learned from Melissa Clark in writing my cookbook that works very well in this same chicken scenario, even though she taught it to me with duck. That technique is similar to the previous technique only it involves fruit.
Monday night is healthy dinner night. I don’t drink wine, even if Craig makes a stink and opens a bottle in protest. I don’t make dessert, even if he begs for my famous chocolate chip cookies. What I do, on Monday night, is penance for all of the ridiculous things I ate over the weekend and, also, I set the tone for the upcoming week: if I eat healthy on Monday night, it’ll make the fact that I went to the gym earlier in the day seem worthwhile. Also, it’ll keep me in the zone for going to the gym next day. The trick, though, is to make the dinner just healthy enough; meaning, it shouldn’t be punishing. It should still be good. Which is how I came up with the dinner I’m about to tell you about.
A strange thing has happened to me recently. I’ve been working on a play (don’t ask any questions! it’s too soon) and also going to the gym five days a week so that, at the end of the day, I wander into Trader Joe’s (underneath my gym) in a sort of daze, eager to just grab some things to throw a tasty dinner together. In other words: by shifting my professional focus, I’ve actually gotten better at my profession because most people who read my blog wander into Trader Joe’s in a similar state at the end of the day and want to know how to put something tasty on the table. So it may come as a shock to you that I was able to make this, what seems like a highly involved dish, after arriving home at 6:30 in no mood to make a highly involved dish. It’s Chicken Milanese and it’s a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am kind of a weeknight dinner.
Every so often, a new friend will confess that they’ve been reading my blog and when I ask, “Did you make anything?” the response is often, “Well I work, so I barely have time to get dinner on the table.” I understand where they’re coming from, though I usually end the friendship at that point. To prevent that from happening again, I’d like to share with you now a dinner anyone can make right after work that is so winning and so wonderful, you’ll want to hug me once you learn it. I like it so much, it’s pretty much a staple now of my repertoire.