One of the reasons that I enjoy cooking so much is that I find it to be a very connecting experience. With baking, the experience is very personal – kneading the dough, sifting the flour, frosting the cake – the finished product is often a result of my own craftsmanship, meticulousness, and creative attributes. With cooking, it doesn’t suffice to merely have talent in the kitchen and a good recipe. You have to be connected to the earth, the agriculture, the farm; you need to know what’s seasonal and fresh, which fruit and vegetables are ripe for using, or which piece of meat is tender enough to be enjoyably consumed.
Once you have this knowledge, cooking can be very forgiving. A pinch of this or that, or lack thereof, is all up to your taste. The quality and freshness of your ingredients will shine through and steal the spotlight. My mother taught me this over the years as I watched her cook. When I asked her how she made her much loved roast chicken, she gave me a general idea of what she did, and then I’d started asking her all my specific questions. How much salt did she add? A teaspoon? Two teaspoons? As a baker who is accustomed to exact measurements, I couldn’t help wondering. She’d shrug her shoulders and say, “It’s all to taste…just eye it, honey.” It wasn’t until I started cooking myself that I finally understood what she meant.
Now, I cook knowing that how delicious my roast chicken turns out is determined more by which herbs I use to season it rather than whether or not an extra granule or two of salt makes its way into the dish. I make my roast chicken the way my mother has for years. Her chicken has made her famous among family and friends, and it’s always the first to go at family gatherings. For this simple dish, I simply cut up the roast chicken and placed it on a bed of dressed up arugula, as inspired by Ina Garten’s recipe. The chicken has a crispy skin, but the meat underneath is mouthwateringly juicy and moist. The thyme, rosemary, and sage contribute an earthy flavor that’s balanced out with the heat of the garlic and bite of the lemon. Crusty country bread is placed underneath the chicken so that as the chicken bakes, its juices drip down and become absorbed into the bread. The bread becomes soft on one side from the juices and then toasted and crunchy on the other side from the heat of the pan. This combination makes for spectacularly flavored croutons for the salad. The salad itself is dressed with a combination of olive oil, white wine vinegar, dijon mustard, garlic, and scallions. The salad’s tossed in this dressing with some dried currants and then used as a bed for the cut up roast chicken. It’s a simple and yet entirely satisfying meal that shows just how impressive using quality ingredients can be.
for the roast chicken
- 3-4 lb organic whole chicken
- 1-2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 sprigs of thyme
- 3 sprigs of rosemary
- 2 sprigs of sage
- 2 cloves large of garlic, smashed
- 1 lemon, cut in half
- sea salt
- freshly ground pepper
- twine, optional
for the salad
- 2 slices to 3 of day-old crusty country bread
- 6 cups of baby arugula
- 1/2 c good olive oil
- 1/4 c white wine vinegar
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 3 tbsp chopped scallions, white and green parts
- 2 tbsp dried currants
- salt and pepper to taste
- Begin by creating the chicken. Rinse and remove any giblets from the inside of the chicken. Thoroughly dry the chicken by patting it dry with paper towels. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place your bread slices in a baking pan that's only slightly bigger than the chicken.
- Gently massage both sides of the roast chicken with enough olive oil to coat all of the chicken. Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt inside the cavity of the chicken. Then season all over the outside of the chicken, both top and bottom, with the sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
- Gather 3 sprigs of thyme, 2 sprigs of rosemary, and 1 sprig of sage and place them inside the cavity. Place the whole garlic cloves and lemon inside too. Use some twine to tie the chicken's thighs together, if necessary, to keep everything inside the cavity. Chop up the remaining herbs into fine pieces and sprinkle them all over the top of the roast chicken. Place the chicken (breast-side up) directly onto the bread slices.
- Bake for approximately 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until a thermometer reads 165°F and the chicken's juices run clear. For the last minute, broil the chicken at 500°F just to give it some really nice color. Then remove the roast chicken from the oven and temporarily cover it with foil. Let it rest in the pan while you create the salad.
- To create the salad, whisk the wine wine vinegar and lemon juice with the dijon mustard, until the mustard is completely blended in. Then add the olive oil and vigorously whisk until combined.
- Stir in the minced garlic, scallions, and dried currants. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour the dressing over the arugula and toss together in a large bowl.
- To assemble, place the salad on your serving platter, or in individual portions on plates. Cut up the roast chicken into either large pieces or bite-size pieces, your preference. Then cut up the bread slices underneath. Add the bread and chicken to your salad. Finish with a sprinkle of sea salt all over.