Food & Dining

Go-to recipe that delivers big flavor

This roast chicken with bread salad takes a little time but is so worth it.
This roast chicken with bread salad takes a little time but is so worth it. Chicago Tribune/TNS

I do my best cleaning when I am on deadline. Oh, yes. As the time counts down to turning in an article or a presentation, you’re more likely to find me wiping baseboards then pounding on the keyboard. Tax documents to sort for my sister, the accountant? Sorry, sis, the new vacuum beckons.

Fortunately, my recipe repertoire includes reliable, sure-to-please favorite dishes that help me focus on the task at hand. I simply turn on the oven in readiness for a family dinner and get back to the computer.

More often than not, chicken takes center stage for these dinners. And roast two chickens at once, every time. The leftovers transform weekday meals. I serve them rewarmed with barbecue sauce, diced over main-course salads and as soup additions.

For some reason, chicken producers have decided that the North American penchant for chicken breast must mean we want those large breasts in our roasters. No way. Those popular 5- or 6-pound roasting chickens prove nearly impossible to cook properly. Small chickens have a higher ratio of meat to bone; the bones absorb the heat and help the chicken cook to moist doneness.

So dinner’s in the oven. Enjoy!

This roast chicken has 45 minutes of prep time. Cooking: One hour. Makes: Eight servings.

Don’t be put off by the prep time here; several of the steps can be done in advance. I make double or triple the quantity of the poultry herb seasoning and store the mixture in a jar in a cool, dry place; that way, it’s ready whenever I want to roast chicken.

Herb seasoning

▪ One tablespoon coarse (kosher) salt.

▪ Two teaspoons dried basil.

▪ One teaspoon each, dried, leaf: oregano and thyme.

▪ Half a teaspoon each of freshly ground black pepper adn crushed red pepper.

Chicken

▪ Two whole small young chickens, also known as broiler/fryer chickens, weighing 3 to 3.5 pounds each, giblets removed.

▪ One loaf (1 pound) hearty multigrain bread (not sliced).

▪ Quarter cup olive oil.

▪ Coarse salt.

▪ Half a cup dried cranberries, dried cherries, raisins or diced dried apricots.

▪ Two tablespoons balsamic vinegar.

▪ One-third of a cup thyme vinaigrette, see recipe, or bottled vinaigrette.

▪ Two medium (1 pound total) zucchini, trimmed, halved lengthwise, cut into half-inch-thick slices.

▪ One bunch (12 ounces) kale or lacinato kale, tough stalks discarded, leaves torn into large pieces, about 10 loosely packed cups.

▪ One third of a cup thyme vinaigrette, see recipe, or bottled vinaigrette.

For poultry herb seasoning, mix salt, basil, oregano, thyme, black pepper and crushed red pepper in small bowl. Store in a covered jar up to two months.

Rinse chickens well. Pat dry with paper toweling. Tuck wings behind back. Put into a large roasting pan or 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle all sides and the cavity with the herb blend (seasoned chicken can be refrigerated, covered loosely with wax paper, up to two days).

Heat broiler. Cut bread into 1.5-inch chunks; you’ll have about eight cups. Put into a single layer on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle with olive oil and toss to coat. Broil, turning often, one minute; flip and broil again until lightly charred, crisp and toasty on all sides, about two to three minutes total, depending on broiler. Don’t walk away, or the bread will burn.

Mix the cranberries and balsamic vinegar in a small dish. Let stand covered at room temperature up to several days.

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Pat the chicken pan dry if it is not. Roast the chickens breast-side up, 20 minutes. Gently loosen them from the pan and flip. Roast breast side down, 20 minutes. Loosen and flip again. Add zucchini to pan. Roast until chicken juices run clear, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven. Turn off oven.

While the chicken roasts, put half of the kale and one tablespoon water into a large microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap vented at one corner. Microwave on high (100 percent power), two minutes. Transfer to a colander and repeat with remaining kale.

Use tongs to tip chicken, so juices run back into the roasting pan. Put chickens on a cutting board. Tent the chicken with foil, and let rest, 10 minutes.

Use a small ladle to skim off excess fat from pan juices. Stir kale, bread cubes and soaked cranberries into remaining pan juices. Stir in enough vinaigrette to lightly moisten everything. Put the pan of salad into the still-warm but turned-off oven while you carve the chicken.

Carve each chicken into two breast halves, two thighs, two drumsticks and two wings. Serve the chicken pieces accompanied by the warm salad.

Thyme vinaigrette: Mix a quarter cup extra-virgin olive oil with two tablespoons white wine vinegar and a quarter teaspoon each of salt, pepper and dried thyme leaves.

Nutrition information per serving: 776 calories, 43 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 166 mg cholesterol, 37 g carbohydrates, 11 g sugar, 60 g protein, 999 mg sodium, 5 g fiber.

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