a chicken. And make some sweet potato-apple casserole. I was ready to post this yesterday, but our server was down – sorry folks!
So, here we go! How fun. I’d like to talk about ingredients a lot more soon, but let me say briefly that the quality of your chicken (and your sweet potatoes and apples) is the most important thing here. If you don’t already buy local, pasture-raised meat, today is the day to try it. You’re going to get at least two meals (probably three) out of this bird, and it is more than worth it. Meat raised humanely and with proper feed tastes amazing, is better for your body, and better for the planet. What more could you want?
1 roasting chicken
2 large or 4 smaller sweet potatoes
2 large apples
2 tbsp butter
To begin – turn your oven on to 450 degrees F. (If your chicken was frozen, put it in the fridge to defrost the night before, or a warm water bath in your sink if you’re crunched for time). I learned to make a perfect roast chicken from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon, and I of course recommend learning it from the master himself. While the oven is getting truly hot, scrub your sweet potatoes and prick them a few times with a fork, then place on a baking sheet. (No foil necessary. Also, if your sweet potatoes are truly fat, you may want to cut them in half so they cook faster.) Pop the sweet potato pan in the oven and set a 30 minute timer.
After fifteen minutes, take out your chicken from the fridge. Check for any neck or giblets in the body cavity (if there are any, save them for your chicken stock – yum!), rinse the bird, and let dry a minute (Keller dries it off with paper towels I think, but I don’t use paper towels). Or goal here is a chicken with awesomely crispy skin – so no basting or butter. Place a cast iron pan big enough to comfortably fit your chicken into the oven to warm up. Cast iron is my favorite for all kinds of cooking, and it works very well for this.
Deviating from Keller’s instructions, I almost always add some vegetables to the pan to roast in the chicken juices (I really really recommend this – you have a main and a side dish in one, and cooking in the juices is magical). I add any combination of root veggies (chopped into pieces), greens such as kale, onions (quartered), shallots (quartered), and garlic (whole cloves with the skin on). Here, I have kale, carrots, onion, and turnips. Place your vegetables(if desired) in the bottom of the pan (no oil or fat necessary), then sit your chicken on top, and salt. Keller describes this as “raining” salt, instead of rubbing it into the skin. I use about 1 tsp sea salt on each side (top and bottom), and I like the rain method – pinch the salt in your fingers, hold your hand about 6 inches above the bird, and drizzle the salt while moving your hand back and forth. Voila. You should still see some salt crystals even after the chicken is baked.
(yes, there is one little feather sticking out! funny how noticeable it is in these photos, but I didn’t notice it while I was cooking)
You’re ready to go in the oven! I like to cook my chicken breast side down, and I don’t bother tying the legs together (I don’t find that it makes a difference in cooking). Pop that bird in, and take out your sweet potatoes (they will be partly baked, but not totally squishy). Set a 45 minute timer to check the chicken. (Depending on how big your chicken is, it will take between 30 minutes for a very small [5 pound] bird, to 1 hour or more for a big bird [8 pounds or bigger]. One tool I really recommend is a probe thermometer that you can insert into meat – this will instantly turn you into a much better meat cook! For chicken, the technical “safe” temperature is 165 degrees F at the deepest part of the chicken – we prefer 175 degrees F, and you should not see any pink juices running out. Test a few spots to be sure.)
(sadly, this photo in my dim kitchen does not do the golden color justice – you’ll have to see it for yourself!)
While your sweet potatoes cool, cut your apples into quarters, take out the cores, and cut them into fat slices. Butter a small casserole dish (a medium pot would work, too). When the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut those into half-inch thick slices. (I leave the skins on, you can take them off if you like.) Put one layer of sweet potatoes on the bottom of your pan, sprinkle with 1/4 tsp salt.
Top with a layer of apple slices and add a few dots of butter. Continue until you’ve used up your apples and sweet potatoes, ending with sweet potatoes on top. Sprinkle on a bit of cinnamon if you like, but please – don’t add sugar! Or at least, promise to try it first without additional sugar. This dish really does not need it. (Total credit for the casserole goes to my mother, by the way – thanks Mom! I loved this dish as a child and still do – I eat an embarrassing amount of it every time I make it, hot or cold the next day!) Now, put your casserole into the oven (uncovered is fine), and go relax. When you check your chicken, take the casserole out, too (test to be sure the sweet potatoes are totally tender). Bon Appetit!
And don’t forget to save your chicken carcass – every last scrap, and the drippings from the pan, to make some chicken stock. Put it into the freezer if you don’t have time to do it soon. Or, like Ella, stand in your kitchen and try to lick every last drop of chicken goodness from the pan. Clothing optional. Oh, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to post them here, or email me.
A quick note on your oil questions – Canola is a vegetable product, but a new, industrial one. I use butter always. I love it, I don’t believe fats are scary, and I can get it locally. I only use oil in salad dressings, and I use either olive oil (imported, and therefore scarce for us) or nut oils like walnut or almond. We might get one of these and press our own! More about canola can be found here, for more on fats being awesome, check out Nicole’s post, or read Nourishing Traditions or In Defense of Food. Great questions!