Thursday, April 28, 2016

Spring Chicken

Like so many good things, this dish was discovered as a result of throwing together whatever I had in the fridge into one pot and putting it into the oven. Since then, I've been cooking it on repeat.

It was a Sunday, I had two large leeks leftover from another meal sitting hopefully in the fridge. I had a pile of good sweet potatoes (yams) sitting in a bowl on my counter. I had a whole chicken waiting to be roasted. When everything came together and ended up on the table, we ate the first few perfect bites in total happy silence.

I can and have cooked chicken dozens of ways, but among my favorite preparations is putting the entire bird into a Dutch oven. You can make this recipe in a deep casserole dish or even in a roasting pan, but I can't guarantee the same success. There's just something that ceramic cast iron does to the bird: the meat stays tender, the skin gets perfectly browned, the flavors are somehow more pronounced. Yes, these pots are generally expensive. I have been lucky enough to have been gifted a few that I otherwise would not have been able to afford, but I also have a pot that I got years ago for $50 dollars at World Market and it's the one that I made this chicken in, and I continue to use this cheaper less sexy Dutch oven for countless other dishes. The point is, any cast iron pot will do. Even a plain lodge cast iron pot would be great. If you don't have one, this one time investment will last forever and will be a welcome addition to your kitchen.

This recipe can be modified endlessly. I like to use Japanese sweet potato alongside the beautiful orange variety. I like to throw in a shallot or two for a contrasting onion note. I would happily swap out sweet potatoes for carrots and parsnips, or plain good quality potatoes if I didn't have yams on hand. I sometimes use fresh rosemary, and sometimes I use fresh thyme. Sometimes I use both. I could get away with neither. You get the picture...

But in its best form, this dish is about leeks and sweet potatoes, leeks and sweet potatoes, and leeks and sweet potatoes. Cooked down with the chicken, the aromatic sweetness of the leeks marries with the floral sweetness of the potatoes in rich chicken drippings. The vegetables get very soft, the leeks become unrecognizable, and it all goes so well with perfectly cooked, deeply savory, crisped roast chicken.

All this glory comes together quickly and easily. Everything is thrown into one pot, everything is cooked at the same time, no extra sides are necessary (unless desired). This is a very happy Sunday night meal.

One Pot Roast Chicken with Leek and Sweet Potato
Serves 4-5

1 whole 5 lb. chicken, or you can use the same weight of just white or dark meat pieces (but you will want skin on bone in pieces)
3-4 medium sweet potatoes (1 lb./450g) (any variety or mix of varieties)
2 large whole weeks (1 lb./ 450g)
1 large shallot (3-4 oz / 90g)
4-5  large cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary
kosher salt, to taste
freshly ground pepper, to taste
Hungarian paprika, to taste (optional)
Olive oil, to drizzle
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 cup water (or white wine or chicken stock if you have it)

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cut the sweet potatoes into chunks that are no more than 1" in thickness. If the chunks are too thick they might not cook through. Trim the green tops off of of the leek. Use the white/light green part of the leeks by cutting them in half lengthwise, and then washing them well to remove all of the grit. Roughly chop or slice the leeks into half moons, their thickness is totally up to you. Halve the shallot lengthwise and cut it into half moons.

To a pot add the chopped sweet potato, leeks, shallot, smashed garlic, and whole springs of fresh Rosemary (the leaves will come off the stems as everything cooks. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Generously season the whole chicken with salt and pepper, inside and out. Top with paprika if using Drizzle the chicken generously with olive oil, and rub the oil all over the outside of the chicken.

Place the seasoned chicken into the pot on top of the sweet potato mixture.

Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the chicken. Add 1/2 a cup of liquid to the pot, drizzled all over the veg. The liquid will help cook the vegetables and keep everything from getting too dry.

Put the lid on the pot (if using a deep casserole dish or roasting pan, cover the dish/pan tightly with foil). Cook with the lid on for 45 minutes. Cook with the lid off for the rest of the cooking time, about 30 minutes - depending on the size of your chicken. You know the chicken is done when it is golden brown, the juices run clear when pierced, or when the internal temperature reaches at least 165°F when tested with a meat thermometer.

Once the chicken is cooked, let it rest for at least 10 minutes before serving. Carve, and serve the chicken with the cooked sweet potatoes and leeks.

1 comment:

  1. Don't waste your money on these pans. they work for a few weeks, but after that you'll be using more and more oil to keep food from sticking. Eventually even the oil won't help. One of the worst kitchen utensils I ever bought.