Monday, January 7, 2013

A Salt & Pepper Meal for the New Year.

Excuse me for crassly stretching the limits of the metaphor, but this part of January - the New Year, if you will - is a lot like a roast chicken.  The simplest of things and yet, in some ways, the most complex of foods to perfect.  Done badly, it can ruin your appreciation of the roast bird, making it, like other simple pleasures, a basic and ubiquitous bore.  Done well, it can exemplify and even elevate all that simple things can be to life.  It's a blank canvas - all the possibilities that linger before us.  It's clean, straightforward, unadulterated - as of yet.  It's the New Year dreams ahead, made delicious by a little salt and a little pepper.

Perhaps it's just coincidence, perhaps it's the cold weather and the appeal of a hot roast on a winter's Sunday afternoon, but for the past couple of years Matt always seems to ask me to make him a roast chicken right around this time.  And for the past couple of years, I've always made this particular recipe, my go-to-utter-perfection-simple-roast-chicken (courtesy of Thomas Keller, see last year's homage).  For whatever reason, I tend to fight the idea of having a roast chicken when first presented with it - oh what a bore, don't want to bother, why not some nice salmon, blah blah blah.  But I always end up giving in.  And then, as soon as I enter the kitchen with that simplistic, holistic culinary purpose, I'm whisked away by the excitement of making such a downright easy meal that I know will be both utterly simple and utterly delicious.

The reason I love this meal I make is because it tears away all the pretentious over-workedness of many modern recipes.  It's a salt & pepper kind of meal.  All you need is a chicken, an oven, salt & pepper and you're good to go.  Yes, sometimes I embellish the side dishes (for example, this year I added anise seed to the potatoes), but at its core, there's nothing flashy or difficult about this meal in its entirety.  Except for the salad, everything is cooked in cast iron skillets in the same oven.  And it's all ready at the same time, accompanied by a simple white wine (Sauvignon Blanc is my preference).  It makes the day and sets the tone for the rest of January, a month that can either drag on or usher in with joy. 

*  *  *
The house smells like heaven.  You find yourself enthralled in the easy but purposeful sprinkling of coarse salt & pepper over the newly dried chicken skin.  No oil, no butter, just heat, salt & pepper and a chicken.  And 60 minutes later your beautiful chicken is transformed.  You can baste at the end.  You can add the Thyme for a little spice.  But you don't have to - it would be the best chicken you ever had straight out of the oven.

the cook's prize
You've roasted potatoes with lemon slices, you've made a simple salad with lemon juice and oil as dressing and copious amounts of grape tomatoes marinated in fresh garlic and basil.  You've basted the chicken and greedily tried to share the cook's prize with your husband.  The wine is chilled, the table set, and you sit down.  You eat.  You feel full and happy, picking at bits of crunchy skin after already eating your fill.  Everyone is rosy-cheeked and happy - even the three year-old - with more light than dark left in the day (and the chicken).  

And that's when you know: this is what a meal should do.  In all its uncomplicated glory it should unite.  It should spark mutual appreciation and enthusiasm for life among the young and old, sitting together, sharing such a meal, in animated conversation, toasting bravely to life's inevitable joys and travails - the salt and the pepper of our existence.

*  *  *

To serve a family of 4

Preheat oven to 450F / 232C

The Chicken (4-5lbs)
Rinse and Dry thoroughly.

Salt & Pepper copiously (inside).
Truss tightly.
Dry again.
Salt & Pepper copiously (outside).
Bake in cast iron skillet (no oil or butter) for 55-65 minutes.
Baste with own juice, sprinkle thyme lightly and baste again.

The Gravy
Whisk flour slurry into pan juices. Add wine.  Reduce. Skim fat. Salt & Pepper.  Serve.

The Potatoes (4 large)
Peel and chop.
Slice lemon thinly.
Mix potatoes, salt & pepper, lemon, oregano (anise seeds too?) and generous amount of canola oil. 
Bake in separate cast iron skillet next to chicken for 45 minutes, mixing occasionally.
Salt & Pepper.
DONE (at the same time as chicken).

The Salad
Chop grape tomatoes.
Chop garlic (3 cloves).
Chop basil.
Mix with lemon juice and olive oil.
Salt & Pepper.
Add mixed greens and serve.

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1 comment:

  1. We (Jon) made the chicken tonight, and it was absolutely delicious. Along the lines of set it and forget it... but turns out better than any ronco food. :) Thanks for the recipe Rat!