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Sunday Night Special: Roast Chicken & Lentils With Mustard Vinaigrette

Roast chicken and lentils

I’ve never roasted a chicken, plain and simple, and that doesn’t seem right. After reading the article in the New York Times’ food section this week about Simon Hopkinson and the “most useful cookbook of all time,” I was reminded that I’d received Roast Chicken and Other Stories for Christmas last year but it got lost among all the other cookbooks I’ve accumulated since December.

The title cracked both my sister (who sent the gift) and I up, as if roast chicken was a self-evident story. Just wait till you hear the one about cod. As it turns out the book really is quite useful, straightforward and anecdotal. I enjoy cookbooks where you get a sense of the author’s personality (assuming they have a likeable one) and opinions.

I think roast chicken is one those so simple it’s hard to do right things like making an omelet. And why bother when you can pick up a perfectly good rotisserie chicken for around $6. I also shy away because this is the type of preparation where the bird itself makes a difference. I’m a horrible person who buys grocery store chickens. I tried imagining what a specimen from Bresse, or more accessible for Americans, a Blue Foot, might taste like. Maybe next time. Maybe never. I can’t even justify paying $20 or so for a run-of-the-mill organic chicken. I’m not there yet. Antibiotic-free was as far could go.

I’ve worked with whole chickens before, but I tend to make things like adobo or curries, never anything European. I hadn’t ever used fresh tarragon before this recipe. One notable difference between ordering from Fresh Direct instead of going to Chinatown is that you don’t have heads and feet with tiny toenails to deal with, though these bony feathery spikes sticking out the wings weirded me out a bit. And there seemed to be more neck attached than usual.

The roast chicken recipe is here on Culinate; it’s really very simple. I had minor trouble, the same trouble that plagues me every Thanksgiving and makes me glad I won’t be cooking a turkey this year. Any juices that are supposed to accumulate in the pan for basting, dry up and burn, then the bird still isn’t cooked after going well beyond the recommended roasting time. And the wine intended to go with the meal gets finished too quickly because there’s so much time spent waiting around for dinner. Ok, I can’t blame my drinking on the oven.

This time I added white wine to the pan to ensure extra liquid, and the drying up problem still happened. And after 45 minutes in the oven with 15 minutes resting with the door open, the skin still wasn’t as brown as I’d like and the juices weren’t completely running clear when I tried slicing the meat. I ended up having to put the chicken back on 350 for an additional 20 minutes. I swear it’s the crappy Magic Chef brand oven that I’ve had in every Brooklyn apartment. The temperature is clearly not accurate.

The chicken survived, but I wasn’t completely wowed. I hate to admit that despite all my butter rubbing and herb and lemon stuffing, the flavor was more subdued than I’d like. The flesh was really moist, though. Maybe it just needed more salt. I’m a chronic under-salter and with all the recent salt-is-the-devil articles, I’m becoming even more paranoid about my health.

Roast chicken

No, I’m not going to make it all pretty for a picture (as if I ever do). It’s just me eating tonight and I don’t want to wash extra plates. You get the idea whether or not it’s sitting in the pan.

Trying to maintain a French-ish theme, I also made Salade Chaude aux Lentilles Avec Vinaigrette à la Moutarde minus the salad part. No arugula, just the green lentils in a vinaigrette. I hate to admit that these rich, tart legumes were tastier than the chicken.

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