Monday, November 18, 2013

Simple Roast Chicken

Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan and Simplest Roast Chicken by Barbara Kafka, a Genius Recipe on Food52



My husband took a job in Arlington, Virginia, and we were going to leave Atlanta and move to the Washington, D.C. area. 

The one good thing I had going for me was that our friends Polly and Bill had moved there two years earlier, so we had built-in dates for Saturday night and people who could dole out advice we would be likely to take.  The first thing Polly said was “move to Old Town.”

So, just like that, we did.

My Mother in Front of Shad Row Townhouse

I found a tiny place I liked, got our house in Atlanta sold, and arranged to move out of the home I loved - all Wedgwood Blue and cream, with buffed, waxed wood floors – a place whose every detail I can still remember as I mentally walk around it on nights I can’t sleep.

The last thing I did after the movers pulled away was wash the kitchen floor.  I walked out the door, unable to give even a backward glance, leaving behind a clean house and a bottle of Champagne in the refrigerator.  My plan was to head out alone after spending the night with my friend Jean, an Eastern Airlines flight attendant, but when I came downstairs at 5:30 the next morning, she was standing there with her own packed bag and an outstretched hand holding a cup of coffee for me.  “I’m going with you; without me I don’t think you’ll make it across the South Carolina line.”

So on a beautiful September morning, still dark, we got into my beloved white Fiat convertible (may I add with a red interior) and headed to I-85 for the ten-and-a half-hour drive to D.C.

By the time we moved out of the hotel in the District to our new house in Old Town, it was October, and the kind of fall I hadn’t seen in eight years - cool, crisp and clear - had arrived.



Then the next good thing happened.

As I walked around my new neighborhood, the leaves crunching under my feet, desperately missing the late summer and red clay of Georgia, I came across a special shop on Cameron Street.  In a town so Colonial you didn’t start if someone wearing a tricorn hat walked by, the shop was – well - it was so European.  There were bright copper pots, rustic French pottery, and all sorts of things I had never seen before.  While I was looking at a beautiful glazed baking dish, a friendly woman came over to help me, and she happened to mention Marcella Hazan’s recipe for a roast chicken with a lemon stuck up its bottom.  So I left with that mustard-colored French dish tucked under my arm and walked to Safeway to get a chicken and some lemons before heading home to make the roast chicken recipe from More Classic Italian Cooking.

The next day I walked straight back to La Cuisine and bought my first copper pot from Nancy Pollard.

My Beautiful Fait Tout Circa 1982 Still Going Strong
And even though I left Old Town in 1986 to move to New York, I’ve been buying things from La Cuisine ever since.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if you’re lucky enough to be within striking distance of Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, (and that means if you’re in Washington, D.C.) high tail it to La Cuisine at 323 Cameron Street to see the wonderful merchandise.  You will not find any trendy implements, cookware, books, or foodstuffs on their shelves - only things used, treasured, and highly recommended by “the Cuisinettes,” Nancy, Stephanie, and Larissa, who all have discriminating taste (not a pun) and high standards.  You will not be disappointed.

The Cuisinettes in Front of La Cuisine

Marcella's recipe for Roast Chicken with Lemons was originally published in More Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan on Page 311.  It is most recently found on Page 325 of her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, which is the cookbook I would have if I could only have one (but you would be hard-pressed to sneak the original More off my shelf).

Over time I have adapted this recipe to comport with the high temperature method espoused by another grande dame of cooking, Barbara Kafka (writer of the, unfortunately, out-of-print but must-have Food for Friends).  She is one of two living cookbook writers whose books I buy sight unseen.  (The other is Nigel Slater.)   

Roast Chicken Stuffed with a Lemon
Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan and Simplest Roast Chicken by Barbara Kafka, available on Food52

1 organic chicken (I try to get one not much larger than 3 pounds, but that can be difficult so get the smallest chicken above three pounds you can find)
1 lemon, rolled on the counter to soften, then cut into quarters
4 garlic cloves unpeeled

With a hat tip to the incomparable Judy Rodgers of Zuni Café, pat the chicken all over with kosher salt, and place it upside down on a rack on a plate in the refrigerator.  Leave it there overnight.  In the morning flip the chicken right side up.  (If you actually find a D'Artagnan chicken that is air-chilled and unwrapped in the butcher's case, which I can get at Guidos from the fine butchers at the Mazzeo's meat counter, you can skip this step.)  Remove it from the refrigerator one hour before cooking.

Place your rack on the second level up from the bottom of the oven, and heat your oven to 450 degrees (425 if you have a convection oven).  (Barbara Kafka uses 500 degrees/450 degrees, but those temps are too hot for my Wolf Range.)

If there is a lot of fat in the tail end of the chicken, remove it.  Put the pieces of lemon and the unpeeled garlic cloves in the cavity of the chicken.  If you have salted the chicken and let it sit in the refrigerator, don't salt it again.  If you have not done that, season the chicken with salt.  Season the chicken with pepper. 

Put the chicken in a roasting pan (or, better yet, a 10-inch iron skillet) and put it into the oven breast side up, legs pointed toward the back.  Bake for 50 to 60 minutes depending on the size of the chicken and how well done you like it.  Let it sit with a piece of aluminum foil over it, “not tight, sort of caddywhumpus” (a description lifted from John Martin Taylor's  post about City Ham), for 10 to 15 minutes to keep it warmish without continuing to cook before carving.  FYI, we always serve chicken with lingonberries, the way you serve cranberries with turkey. Leftover chicken is delicious on a sandwich with homemade mayonnaise made with lemon juice.

Barbara Kafka suggests that when you remove the chicken from the pan, you do so by lifting it out with a spoon stuck into the cavity, letting the juices from the chicken run into the pan.  If you use those drippings to season blanched green beens, salted lightly, and served, beautifully glistening, with the chicken, expect your guests to be silent during dinner.

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