Sometimes, you just want comfort. Like leggings, you can dress them up, or dress them down, but no matter what’s on with them, it’s comfort.
I think roast chicken is the food equivalent to leggings.
On a rushed weeknight, you can throw on salt and pepper, and have a one pan dish in an hour total (with 15 minutes of hands on work), or if you’re having company over, you can dress it up a bit with different toppings or sauces. However you make it, it still feels accessible and comforting, sometimes with a fancy flair.
And I think that’s really what we want from most food.
We don’t want just a fancy dish that fills us up… too much pizzaz distracts from the heart. We want our souls fed.
In my mind, you can’t get more simple or comforting than roasted chicken. If I know I’m having people over and it’s been a crazy week, this is a simple, fairly mindless dish (that can even be prepared ahead of time) that is perfect for time around a table. It’s also great for evening dinners with the family. The versatility is endless.
The thing that always surprises me, is that roast chicken isn’t something that seems to get prepared much these days. I’m not sure if it’s the intimidation of making sure it’s done, or people not wanting to deal with bones and, um… other things.
I admit, whole chicken totally weirded me out when I first started cooking. All I knew were boneless skinless chicken breasts. I don’t think I ever ate chicken prepared at home with bones in it until I made it myself. Which was in large part to necessity.
I lived overseas for a year, and it was a good day if you could find bone in chicken breasts at the supermarket and didn’t have to go to the open air market and see the live chicken before you got the dead one handed to you. After plucking feathers from a turkey with tweezers for Thanksgiving, coming home and dealing with a whole chicken didn’t seem quite so intimidating.
I’m not the biggest fan of roasting a whole chicken. To get the breasts done, the legs are overcooked, and it always seems to take so much longer to cook. Thankfully, you’re local butcher can solve this problem with no additional charge for you.
If you don’t have a local butcher, head over to your local Whole Foods. They’ll do anything you need them to…grind chicken breasts for you, cut down a whole chicken, give you half a chuck roast, butterfly your pork chops and more, all for no additional charge. One of the many reason why the store has my loyalty.
Partially from living over seas, and partially from surviving in the North East as a single income family, frugality is ingrained in me. So when I show up to the meat counter, I check and see what’s less expensive per pound, whole chicken legs or a whole chicken. If it’s legs, I get one for each person and am on my way, if it’s the whole chicken, I ask them to break it down for me, which simply means they cut it into breasts, wings, legs and thighs for you. If the thought of sticking your hand inside of a chicken makes you want to curl up in the fetal position and suck your thumb, this is your gig.
When you are ready to cook your chicken, preheat your oven to 425°. If you got legs, throw them all on there, if you got the full chicken, place just the breasts on the pan…those need to cook longer than the rest of the chicken.
This is a breast on the pan, with salt and pepper and a little olive oil. Notice how much salt there is. If you are doing the simple straightforward version of this dish, then you need to season it well, this is going to be the only flavor imparted to the chicken. Put the oil on first and rub it into the skin, then salt and pepper it. Or if you’re really skittish about touching the chicken, you can buy olive oil in spray cans (like Pam, I get mine at trader Joe’s) and spray that on top of the chicken.
If you’re cooking all the pieces of a chicken, and have given the breasts a head start, this is what they will look like after spending 20 minutes in the oven. If you’re roasting legs, then you can throw them in the oven and set the timer for 35 minutes.
After the breasts have cooked for 20 minutes by themselves, add the legs and thighs and roast them for another 30 minutes. This is what they should look like after they are done. I love the crispy, salted skin!
You could stop here, roast some vegetables (on the same pan with all the chicken goodness!), toss a salad and call it a night. That’s usually what I do for weeknight family meals. However, if you’re wanting to dress it up a bit, you have endless options. You could do a sauce, one of which I will show you below, and another option is to do more elaborate seasoning before roasting. One of my favorites is to chop garlic and rosemary and rub that on the chicken, along with salt and pepper. I also like doing a bbq style rub (paprkia, brown sugar, dry mustard, etc) and serving it with our favorite bbq sauce. I’ve also used a couple different marinades (like a balsamic one, balsamic vinegar, garlic, dijon, and olive oil), which are good, but don’t leave the skin quite as crispy as I like it. Worth a try, never the less.
If you want to make the white wine, lemon dijon sauce, then take all the yummy chicken goodness at the bottom of the pan, and dump it in a sauce pan. At this point there are still a few chicken yummies on the roasting pan, to which I throw my root vegetables (any combination of potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, turnips, etc) on to along with salt and pepper and olive oil. I toss and scrape and pop it back in the oven for 40 minutes, at the same temp the chicken was on, leaving the chicken on a dish to the side.
This is what I had once I put it into the sauce pan. Not a ton, but enough to cover the pan. If you do legs, you may have a little bit more fat than I did. If you want to scoop some of it off, go right ahead. I think it adds flavor, and I need less butter, so bring on the fat! To this I added 1 tablespoon of butter, but if you have more, you don’t need to add any butter. Just make sure you have a bout 2 tablespoons of some sort of fat in the pan. Cook over a medium high heat.
Once the butter is melted, or everything is warm, you can add your flour. I added 1 heaping tablespoon which equates to about 2 tablespoons. Stir, and let it cook a bit. This is called a roux, and is the base for just about any cream sauce, cream soup, and lots of other incredible things. Learn it, love it.
My sister and a close friend have Celiac’s, and I also have several other friends with gluten sensitivities, so it’s always great to know a gluten free version for them. When I am making a roux based dish gluten free, I usually sub out cornstarch in equal amounts. I’ve also heard of people having good results with gluten free flour and arrow root powder.
Once you have the roux, add 1 tablespoon of dijon and stir to combine. If you’re not a big fan of dijon, you may want to cut back a bit. Mustard is my condiment of choice, so I’m quite partial to the flavor. Slowly stir in 1 cup of white wine (I used a Chardonnay) and 1/2 cup chicken stock. Slowly stir until sauce has thickened. Season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice
Once my vegetables are done, I throw the chicken on top of them and put the whole pan back in the over for 5 minutes to heat it back up. I put all the veg on a large serving plate, top with the chicken and serve the sauce on the side. I can manage this meal while doing homework with one kid, disciplining another, and putting another one back down for a nap several times and not feel stressed out, and once it’s on the table, all of my brood eats it without complaints. Winner, winner, chicken dinner! Hope it has the same success at your home!
Whole chicken cut into parts OR
Whole chicken legs (thigh and drumstick), 1 per person
Preheat over to 425°. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Place on rimmed baking sheet and rub pieces in olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. If using whole chicken, place just breasts on pan and roast for 20 minutes before adding remaining pieces. Roast another 30 minutes. If using legs, roast 35 minutes.
White Wine, Lemon, Dijon Sauce
1 cup White wine
2 TBS Flour OR Corn Starch (see note above about GF options)
1 TBS Dijon
1/2 cup Chicken Stock
Add flour to pan drippings and heat over medium high heat. Stir and cook until light brown. Add dijon and stir in. Slowly add wine and chicken stock continuously stirring until sauce is thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving add a squeeze of lemon juice.