A Traditional Winter Sunday Dinner: Roast Chicken with all the Fixings

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The chicken, on its "trivet" of vegetables, right before being placed on the cutting board. Notice the amount of juices. Photo by: Krista Campbell Fraser

Because I didn’t include a recipe with the previous post — and be sure to keep an eye open for the continuation of the Family Food Shopping on a Budget series — I’ve decided to offer up a bonus post…  with TWO recipes!

Tonight’s dinner at the Farm to Table household was a true treat.  Roasted Chicken and Gravy with Baked Potato, Carrots, Parsnips, and Corn.  We started off with a wonderful Acorn Squash and Apple Soup and Fresh-Baked Bread and finished off with a cup of tea.  Quite frankly, there was no room for dessert.

I’m not going to offer up recipes for the entire dinner — you can look up how to cook vegetables on your own time.  I will, however, give you some tips on the chicken and gravy.

Before I do, however, I’d like to point out that this entire dinner was made with local and seasonal food — well, other than the salt and pepper.  In fact, I believe that everything on the table came from within a 50km radius.

Yes, even the corn.

We blanch and freeze kernels from McLean’s Berry Farm corn each year in order to enjoy year-round.  By slicing the corn from the cob, quickly prepping it in boiling water, and then freezing, we have the best tasting winter corn that you can possibly find.

But, back to the bird.

I’ve recently started a new technique for making Roast Chicken and Gravy.  After reading a wonderful Jamie Oliver recipe, I decided that cooking the chicken his way might offer up both tasty poultry and fantastic gravy.  His gravy, though, took quite a few more steps than most other gravies — which made me worry about getting it done in the short window of time that a chicken needs to rest before carving.  It also included mashed veggies — which I thought would detract from the taste.

What I did take from Chef Oliver was the idea of cooking the chicken over what he calls a “trivet” of vegetables.  In short, you chop up onion, carrot and celery, pile them in the roasting pan, and roast the chicken on top of them.

Brilliant idea!

Plenty of juices for making gravy.  And a great well-rounded taste in the juices.

As for the chicken, there are countless ways to use the leftovers, from hot chicken sandwiches to chicken wraps to fajitas to chicken chili to… well, you’re only limited by imagination.

And save the bones for soup!

Now, recipe/tips time:

Roasted Chicken with Gravy

Ingredients:

1 chicken — doesn’t really matter what size.  I’d generally go 3-4 lbs, though tonight’s was a 7 lb monster.  A 3-4 pound chicken will feed 3-4 people.  You can get great whole organic chickens from Rhea-lly Emu-zing Ranch in Havelock (Saturday Farmers’ Market).  For a slightly cheaper (though not organic) chicken, you can try Millar Farms in Keene (also at the Market).

2 small onions (out of habit, we use Beyers Farm, Lakefield)
2 carrots (again, Beyers)
I’ll sometimes cheat and also use 2 stalks of celery.  But if I’m being truly local during the winter, I’ll leave them out.
4 buds garlic (Gaelic Garlic, Peterborough)
Optional (though not in season): a few springs of thyme and rosemary.
1/2 stick of butter (softened).  We tend to use either Kawartha Dairy of Sterling Dairy (Campbelford).
Salt and Pepper

2 tbsp flour (Merrylynd Farm, Lakefield. Find it at Joanne’s Health Food).
1 1/2 cups of chicken stock or water (we make our own stock).

Procedure:

1. Remove neck and organs from the cavity of the chicken.  Rinse the bird thoroughly — including in the cavity.  Pat dry.  Season both the outside of the chicken with salt and pepper.

2.  Peel garlic.  Place 2 buds in the cavity of the chicken.  Very finely chop the remainder.

3.  Use 1/4 of the butter to grease your roasting pan.  Add the garlic to the remainder and mix well.  It is here that you could add the finely chopped leaves (not stalks) of your thyme and rosemary.

4. Loosen the skin over the breast of the chicken and rub some of your butter between the skin and the flesh.  You may have to work a bit to reach all of the breast under the skin.  Massage the rest of the butter mixture over the outside of the chicken — including the thigh/leg area.

5. Truss your chicken (Google how to truss a chicken.  It is dead simple.).

6. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  This high heat will help ensure a crispy skin.

7. Peel and coarsely chop your onion and carrot (and celery, if you choose) and pile in the centre of your roasting pan.

8.  Place chicken on your “trivet” of veggies.  The breast should be pointing up.

9. Roast chicken for 15 minutes and then reduce heat to 350.

10.  Cook until the chicken reaches 160 degrees, remove from pan, and tent with foil.  It will continue to cook while it rests.  The best way to check for doneness is to insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh (almost where the thigh meets the breast).  As a general rule of thumb chickens usually take roughly 20 minutes per pound, after the initial 450 degree crispening.

11.  While the chicken is resting, remove the vegetables from the roasting pan and pour all of the fat/drippings into a small bowl.  Skim 2-3 tbsp of fat from the top (after pouring, the fat will float to the top, while the juices will settle to the bottom) and add back to your pan.  Skim off the rest of the fat and discard along with the vegetables.  Add your stock to the juices and stir.

12. Heat the pan over medium-high heat on your stovetop and scrape the browned bits from the pan.  Add your 2 tbsp of flour and brown for roughly two minutes.  Slowly whisk in your juices/stock mixture until smooth.

13. Bring to a boil and cook for a few minutes, until it thickens to the consistency that you like.  Pour into a gravy boat.

14. Carve your chicken — and, please, look up how to do it properly so that you maximize the meat without making a mess of your cuts.

15.  Serve with your potatoes and vegetables.  Preferably with a half-decent Prince Edward County wine.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Well, it is.

It might seem a tad stressful the first time, but, you know what?  You’re only cooking a chicken.  There really isn’t that much you can screw up.  Trust me.  So relax.  Enjoy it.  Sip some wine during the process.  And then brag to your friends.

As a bonus, the recipe for our great Acorn Squash and Apple Soup.  This one is Krista’s creation.  And she did a bang-up job with the recipe.  This soup is sweet (but not too sweet) and quite fresh tasting (a rarity during the winter months).  Serve with some hearty homemade bread.

1 acorn squash (about 2-2.5 cups flesh once roasted)
1 medium apple
1 medium cooking onion
2 cups chicken stock
1 tsp corriander seed – toasted & crushed
1.5 tsp fresh ground ginger
coarse ground pepper to taste

1. Roast squash (cut it in half, seed it, and place face down in a glass baking tray with about 1cm of water in bottom; bake for 30-45 min at 400 or until flesh is soft when pricked with a fork).

2. Saute onion and apple in butter (just until it sweats, you don’t want to brown it).

3. Add stock, spices and squash.

4. Cook for about 20 minutes.

5. Remove from heat and cool slightly — say, for 5 minutes.

6. Puree (in small batches if using a blender, though an immersion blender would be the best tool for the job).

7. Heat through and serve (add extra stock to thin or cream to thicken, if desired)

Makes about 4-6 appetizer-sized servings

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