When I was growing up, a family favorite dinner was something that we called, “Mr. Frank’s chicken.” Mr. Frank was a family friend who at some point shared his simple recipe with my parents. It consisted of chicken breasts covered in Cajun seasoning and cooked in a baking dish with a little water so that the chicken didn’t dry out. As simple as that chicken was, we always loved it.
Simple things are often beautiful, as I have discovered.
Recently I posted a photo of a roasted chicken on Facebook, and several people asked for the recipe. Some said that they don’t have time to cook every night and I had to explain that this chicken is quite easy, as I will explain in detail! The hardest part is the lemon zest. Do invest in a microplane zester and use fresh lemons — it makes a difference.
John Besh recently published a cookbook entitled, My Family Table: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking. In this book, Besh has recommendations for, “The Essential Pantry.” He stresses, “…I don’t want you to not make the soup (or braise or stew) just because you only have packaged chicken broth in the house. I think it is so important to keep sight of our goal: to put good, fresh, healthy food on the table for our families. Period.”
Our media is full of information about processed and fast foods. I won’t get up on that soapbox today. What I will do is try to share some of the things I do to try and put fresh, healthy food on the table for my family. Everyone must decide what that means for their own family and sometimes it takes a while to figure it out! Start slowly and simply and build your own methods.
Baton Rouge traffic is horrible — I think most people will agree that a trip across Baton Rouge to the grocery store can take time out of our day that most of us do not have to waste. Late afternoon traffic is the worst — people are heading home at 5:00. For many of us, this is NOT the time to go home and attempt a complicated meal — especially when the trip home means a stop at the grocery store. I work at home now, but that hasn’t always been the case. When I worked in an outside office, I would sometimes pick up a rotisserie chicken (and still do) when I know that I just don’t have the energy.
I have found that keeping certain basic items close at hand saves time. For instance, most grocery stores in this town do not have fresh herbs. If someone wants to cook something with fresh herbs that are not in their kitchen, it means a trip across town. I suspect that many people substitute dried herbs from a jar just to avoid a trip to the store. An even better idea is to grow commonly used herbs at home.
If you do not have a rosemary plant, now is the perfect time to acquire one. They’re often sold as small tabletop Christmas trees. As long as you keep them watered and follow the instructions enclosed, these plants should survive the winter in your kitchen, with occasional trips outdoors. Then, in the spring, you can plant the rosemary in the ground if you want. Not only can rosemary be used in cooking, but I often pass the rosemary bush as I am getting out of the car and run my hand through the leaves — that woodsy fresh fragrance is instant aromatherapy!
Herbs such as parsley, thyme and mint can be grown in pots if you don’t have a place near your kitchen for a kitchen herb garden. I have a raised bed very close to the kitchen in which I keep mint, basil, sage, oregano and rosemary. This little herb garden helps me to keep my sanity! The Baton Rouge Herb Society has information on how to grow herbs, which herbs grow best here and more.
Susan Spicer’s, Crescent City Cooking is another of my favorite cookbooks and has some recommendations for items to keep in your pantry that can be used for many different recipes.
My roasted chicken, pictured above is one that has evolved over the years, beginning with my purchase of a clay baking dish. A recipe in Cooking Light Magazine for Lemon-Herb Roasted Chicken (Cooking Light, November 2000, p. 3) caught my eye and when I found out how well that baking dish held in the chicken’s moisture, I used it often. I collected the juices from the cooked chicken and froze it for use in other dishes. Now I have combined what I believe is the best of three recipes to produce the recipe that follows. This recipe, which is now more my go-to chicken recipe is inspired by Susan Spicer’s Roasted Chicken with Olives, Lemon and Garlic, and John Besh’s Herb-Roasted Chicken. In the recipe below I suggest that you use chopped onion. I often place some onion in the cavity of the chicken with the lemon and garlic. You may choose to follow Susan Spicer’s recipe which calls for the onion to be cut into 8 sections — I have tried each method and it is all a matter of preference.
- 1 chicken (3 pounds)
- 2 lemons, zested and quartered
- Leaves from 1 sprig of rosemary, chopped
- 2-3 tablespoons regular olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of either chopped thyme or oregano (or a combination of the two)
- Kosher Salt (or regular salt if you don't have Kosher)
- Black pepper
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 1 head garlic, cut in half
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
- Put the chicken on a cutting board with trenches to catch the juices.
- Make sure to check the cavity of the chicken for organs or the neck, which are sometimes placed inside. Remove these items from the cavity if they are present and discard. (Some people use them for rice dressing, and you may do so if you are so inclined.)
- Using paper towels, pat the chicken dry inside and out.
- Squeeze one of the lemon quarters over the chicken skin and rub the lemon juice and some of the lemon zest all over the chicken.
- Remove the garlic from one of the pieces of halved garlic head
- Run your fingers under the skin of the chicken and place pieces of the garlic in different areas.
- Let the chicken sit for a few minutes (I use this time to chop my herbs.)
- Rub the entire outside of the chicken with the olive oil.
- Rub the salt all over the inside and outside of the chicken
- Rub the rest of the lemon zest and herbs all over the inside and outside of the chicken
- Season the outside of the chicken with the pepper and pepper flakes
- Stuff the cavity with one of the 1/2 garlic heads and two lemon quarters.
- The trick for roasting the chicken and making it the yummy brown color is all Susan Spicer's and rather than type her words, I will let her explain the res of it herself in her recipe, which is here:
- The only difference is that where she says to add the olives, onion, remaining garlic, lemon quarters and zest, I add the carrot and celery as well. The added carrot and celery add extra flavor to the juices, which can be reserved to make a sauce.