Mealtime | Roasted Little Chicken & Roots with Frenched Green Beans (for 4)

by Kelly on June 1, 2009   

Lemony, herby, chickeny goodness

Lemony, herby, chickeny goodness

Note the word “little” in the name of this recipe — there is a good reason for that modifier. I have a beef with the chicken that’s being sold today! It’s big and stringy and reminds me of an elderly cousin of mine, who needed lots of support garments and mysterious underpinnings. Take the approach that less is more when shopping for chicken, and beware the ‘big girl’ out there.

Some Info on Buying:

Shopping for chicken is certainly perplexing. Birds are labeled free-range, grain-fed, veggie-fed, organic, natural, all natural, air-chilled, and well, just regular – the ones in a package that don’t have any subtitles. At Whole Foods there is a “Rocky” and a “Rosie” and even a “Rocky Jr.” but I don’t think that’s a gender distinction.

Let’s do some very basic Foghorn Leghorn work here:

Free-range: A term used by producers stating that the bird has access to the outdoors (er, even a 1’ by 1’ concrete pad) for part of the day. The best free-range birds get much more space than that (like the Rocky/Rosie group from Petaluma Poultry). This is not a term of certification, or one used in the National Organic Program of the USDA. The gov’s Organic guideline does say that the “ground” they walk on and the space they occupy outside of the enclosed structure must accommodate the animal’s health and natural behavior.  Hmmm.

This was a 3 3/4 pounder, free-range, "natural"

This was a 3 3/4 pounder, free-range, "natural"

Organic: “Organic” designation is a bit vague, with guidelines but a sliding scale of adherence. Many producers are self-regulating, and have an outside auditor to monitor their practices. But the general guideline according to the USDA website is that “animals raised on an organic operation must be fed organic feed and given access to the outdoors. They are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.”

Grain-fed: They were fed grain. End of story. All chickens are fed some grain, except my daughter’s friend Holly’s chickens, which grazed around their lawn eating, among other things, snails (uh huh, escargot-fed). So organic grain-fed would be preferable to plain-old grain-fed.

Natural: Not a term with much meaning. Some producers use it because it almost sounds like organic, but it doesn’t require certification. The USDA has proposed “naturally raised” as a term to mean not fed antibiotics, hormones, or plumped up on broth but I don’t believe it’s in place as yet. One disturbing label is “Raised without additional hormones.” Additional to…what? The ones they got earlier?

On to Cooking:

The objective when roasting chicken is to get crispy skin and tender, moist meat. With a big bird, the breast meat dries out before the dark meat is fully cooked. So again, small chickens are best. No need to tie up the chicken, either, since you want lots of toasty, roasty skin. There are many opinions on how to perfectly roast a chicken, from high-heat to low heat, from brining to drying. You can generously salt and pepper the chicken all over a day ahead and keep it in the fridge loosely covered, but if you’ve missed that step just plow ahead. Just make sure the skin and underside (since this one is butterflied) are very dry before cooking.

Butterflied Little Chicken with Roots

3 to 4 pound chicken
8 to 10 sprigs fresh sage, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, or tarragon, or a combination
Good quality or kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 3/4 pound small red potatoes, scrubbed and dried (include in this a variety of little potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes – or sunchokes – or small beets)
1 large sweet variety onion, sliced into thick wedges
6 garlic cloves, peeled and slightly crushed
Olive oil
Chopped rosemary
2 lemons, sliced
Dash of white balsamic vinegar (or any white wine vinegar)

Preheat the oven to 450°.

Use a heavy knife to cut through the backbone and press firmly to break open the breastbone

Use a heavy knife to cut through the backbone and press firmly to break open the breastbone

Rinse the chicken and thoroughly pat dry, inside and out. Trim off any lumps of fat and fatty skin. Firmly set the chicken, upright on its “neck” on a cutting board and slice down along the backbone. Open the chicken up, gently cracking the breastbone against the board. The chicken should lie flat.  Trim off the tail. Twist and fold the wing tips up under the breast. From the tail end, slide your fingers up under the skin of one breast, gently separating the skin from the flesh, making a narrow pocket.

Take care not to tear the skin by using your fingers to separate it from the flesh

Take care not to tear the skin by using your fingers to separate it from the flesh

Make a similar pocket under the skin of the thigh.  Repeat on the other side. Into the pockets stuff several herb sprigs, adjusting them to get them flat. To secure the legs, make a small slit through the skin and flesh between breast and thigh and work the leg into into.

Make the small cut crosswise to keep from tearing through the slit

Make the small cut crosswise to keep from tearing through the slit

Repeat on the other side. Sprinkle the skin and underside of the chicken liberally with salt and pepper and set aside.

Put the potatoes and root vegetables, sliced onions, and garlic cloves in a good-sized roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and a little chopped rosemary.

The little knobby sunchokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes) have a sweet, artichokey flavor

The little knobby sunchokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes) have a sweet, artichokey flavor

Make space in the center of the pan and arrange the lemon slices in a layer. Place the chicken on top of the lemon and tuck the remaining herb sprigs around it.

Cook the chicken for 10 minutes at 450° and reduce the heat to 375° for another 30 to 40 minutes, or until the skin is deeply brown. Baste the chicken and the vegetables a few times as it cooks. Ten minutes before the chicken is done sprinkle a few teaspoons of vinegar over the top and finish cooking.

Hard to resist...

Oh yeah

“Frenched” Green Beans

I first encountered the little tool used to make these sliced beans in 1980, when I was working for a cookware store on California Street in San Francisco. The idea, I think, is to make an haricot vert out of a Blue Laker. My grandmother’s way of cooking the venerable bean was to cook the heck out of ‘em along with a big slab of bacon. Suh-blime. But this was a brave new world, and I wanted my Frenchified bean, lightly steamed, al dente. I bought one and it’s still one of my favorite tools. Here’s why:  thinly sliced beans cook quickly, so flavor and crispness are retained. Also, the beans are cool looking!

1 pound grean beans, trimmed and “Frenched”

For the Compound Butter:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
Wedge of lemon
Sprig of fresh thyme
Salt and Pepper

Steam the beans until tender but still crunchy, about 10 minutes.

Very easy to do, makes a big impact, flavor-wise

Very easy to do, makes a big impact, flavor-wise

While the beans are cooking, place the butter on a plate, squeeze the lemon over it, pluck the leaves from the thyme sprig and mash them into the butter. Season with a little salt and pepper. Put a dollop on the hot beans before serving. Any extra compound butter can be stored in waxed paper in the refrigerator.

Family & friends will want to do this little task for you

Family or friends will want to do this little task for you

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