Sunday was chilly and rainy; I was cold and wanted to warm up the house, and nothing cozies up a house better than a roasting chicken. Coincidentally, there was a big, chubby organic chicken in my fridge. I hadn’t been able to resist it at Trader Joe’s, especially for only $2.69 a pound. I used to recoil at the premium price of organic poultry, but my reaction changed once I cooked a Rosie chicken (certified organic, free range chicken from Petaluma Poultry- link), and tasted the difference a good upbringing makes. I moved on to organic chickens I found at the Calabasas and Santa Monica farmers markets, from Happy Farms (link). Organic birds have good old fashioned flavor, and I treat them as the celebration food roast chicken once was- perfect for a Sunday supper, plus a couple of bonus meals during the week.
I decided fiery spices would add to the warmth of the meal, and chose a few Moroccan seasonings that would also flatter the sweet potatoes, red onions, and cauliflower I wanted to roast in the pan with the chicken. I rubbed the spices and a generous tablespoon of salt into the bird a couple of hours before putting it in the oven- a flavor enhancing technique I learned from Judy Rodgers, of Zuni Café in San Francisco (link to her book), when testing her recipes at Bon Appetit. She suggests salting chickens 1 to 3 days ahead, but I find even an hour or two will give a flavor boost, and the roast bird will be marvelously succulent.
While preparing the chicken, I gave into the cat who was rubbing my leg, demanding a taste, and tossed her the gizzard and kidney. As I was about to send the plump liver her way, an idea stopped me. Why not sauté and then chop it for a quick chicken liver topping for crostini?
I like to roast chicken in a very hot oven, to crisp the skin while keeping the meat juicy. Once the chicken and vegetables are in the oven, there is nothing to do, so we settled in front of the fire Steve had just built, to look at the photos from my recent trip to Chile. The tantalizing smells and sputtering coming from the oven were getting us hungrier and hungrier, and the chicken liver crostini made a yummy distraction. Steve cut the chicken, and mounded our plates with caramelized vegetables, and slices of moist, tender meat garnished with crunchy, burnished skin; this sumptuous but easy feast eclipsed the chill from the pounding rain.
Chicken, sweet potato fricassee- coming tomorrow
Chicken, polenta soup- coming in the next day or two
Roast Chicken and Vegetables with Moroccan Seasonings
- 1 5- pound organic chicken
- 1 tablespoon plus ¼ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets
- 2 small yams, about 12 ounces total, unpeeled
- 1 medium sized red onion
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 ½ teaspoons paprika
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Freshly ground pepper
- For the Chicken: Pull out and discard the lump of fat and giblets from the main cavity in the chicken; reserve the liver for chicken liver crostini (link). Rinse the chicken inside and out and pat very dry with paper or kitchen towels. Starting at the edge of the main cavity, slide a finger under the skin over each breast, making pockets. Place the salt in a small bowl, mix in the paprika, cumin, pepper flakes, cinnamon and freshly ground pepper. Grate the rind from the lemon (reserve the lemon) and mix it into the spices. Gradually mix in the olive oil. Spread a little of the spice mixture inside the main cavity, and under the skin over the breasts, rub most of the mixture all over the outside of the chicken. Cut the lemon into quarters, and insert as many pieces as will fit into the main cavity. Place the chicken in the center of a large, heavy, rimmed baking sheet, and let stand at room temperature 1 to 2 hours. (The chicken will be delicious even if you don’t have time to let it stand before roasting.)
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 450 F. Place the chicken in the oven and roast for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables: Cut the cauliflower into 1-inch florets, discarding the heavy center stem. Cut the yams in half widthwise; quarter each piece lengthwise, forming wedges. Peel the onion, cut in half then cut each half into 4 wedges. Place the vegetables in a large bowl. Add the oil and toss to coat. Add the spices and toss to coat.
- After the chicken has roasted 30 minutes, carefully remove the chicken from the oven. Tilt the baking sheet and spoon off most of the fat. Arrange the chicken in the center of the pan and spoon the vegetables around the chicken. Return the pan to the center of the oven, and continue roasting until a chicken thigh moves easily when jiggled and an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh registers 165 F, about 40 minutes longer. If the chicken is getting too dark, reduce the temperature to 425 F. Let the chicken reset 10 minutes before carving. Carve the chicken and serve with the vegetables.
- Enjoying leftovers: When cleaning up, reserve any juices in the roasting pan, to add flavor to the dishes you might make with the leftovers. This chicken is as tasty and succulent cold the next day. It is fabulous simply sliced, in chicken sandwiches, or try the Chicken, Sweet potato Fricassee (coming tomorrow) or the Chicken, polenta soup.