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Hearty chicken recipes for cold winter nights
Getting two people to agree on the best way to roast a chicken is almost impossible, but there is no doubt that it is just about everyone’s favorite “go-to” meal during the winter months. Here Jim and I offer two of our best chicken dishes to take the chill off our New England winter weather. We probably have consumed hundreds of chickens on the way to finding out what the perfect roaster is; it is one of our all-time favorite meals. It does not matter if it is just the two of us on a cold winter night or if we have “important” guests. Somehow the combination of oven-roasted chicken and vegetables, along with mashed garlic potatoes always works. The second recipe for a warm and hearty chicken stew is the dish for a snowy Sunday.
Before we get into the particulars of the “how to’s,” we will let you in on a few tips for selecting the best chicken for your recipes. Labels are helpful, and most markets provide you with information on how the chickens are raised and kept healthy. When shopping, it is good to look for the USDA Organic Certified seal. This official seal means the chicken was raised under a specific set of humane guidelines and fed an organic diet without antibiotics or synthetic pesticides. Grass fed means that chickens have been raised on small farms in uncrowded conditions, and they have been allowed to feed on grass in addition to grain. Don’t be fooled by the term free-range; chickens can be kept in tight quarters and permitted to roam for just a short time during their lives and still be called free-range. In addition, you don’t have to worry about chickens being raised “hormone free;” the use of hormones is prohibited in all chickens raised in the United States. Kosher chickens are an excellent choice if you see them in the market.
Now for some professional chefs’ hints on perfecting your roasting techniques. Brining adds flavor and juiciness to chicken, and there are plenty of easy ways to do this. For example, you can soak a 3–4 pound bird in the refrigerator for 1–2 hours in a gallon of water, to which you have added one cup of salt, one cup of sugar, and a handful of dried rosemary and thyme, and then you are ready to go. Of course, larger chickens will need to brine a bit longer. Another step we find helpful after brining is to let the skin of the chicken dry out a bit. This can be done by setting the chicken, uncovered, in the refrigerator overnight. This helps to make the skin of the roasted bird crisp and sensational. If you don’t have time to go through the brining and drying, don’t worry, you can still make a beautiful, flavorful bird.
For basic roasting, set the oven temperature to at least 450°F. We find that larding the chicken with a butter-and-herb seasoning mixture before roasting adds superb flavor. Do this by raising or slicing the skin and insert the mixture underneath it. Experiment with your own herbal concoctions. Lemon zest, rosemary, and garlic work well when seasoning poultry. Plenty of salt and pepper are also a must. For ideal browning and to ensure the chicken is cooked through evenly, roast it one wing side down for 20 minutes, the other side down for 20 minutes, and finally 20 minutes breast side up. (Of course, timing needs to be adjusted depending upon the weight of the chicken.) To be safe, always use a meat thermometer. Internal temperature on a done bird should be 160°F for the white meat and 175°F for the dark.
Our other favorite chicken recipe, one that is wonderful on the coldest nights of the year, is chicken stew. Served with mashed potatoes or wide egg noodles, this chicken stew, enhanced with wine and root vegetables, is an incredible meal and a great option if you have chicken pieces available! It does take a bit of time to prepare, but it can be made ahead. It’s even better if made on a Saturday to be enjoyed on Sunday, but it also tastes good on the same day that you make it.
However you enjoy your bird, roasted or stewed, you will be filling the house with aromas that are delightful and with meals to be remembered long after the winter chill has gone.
Roast Chicken with Vegetables
If you choose to brine the bird, as recommended above, for a 3–4 lb. bird, combine one-cup salt and one-cup sugar with one gallon of water. Place the chicken in a large stockpot and cover with the brine. Allow it to sit at least an hour, preferably 2–3 hours. Remove bird from water, place it on a platter, and set it uncovered in the refrigerator overnight.
If you are not brining, make sure you carefully and thoroughly dry the skin of the chicken with paper towels.
For the garlic herb butter (butter can be made ahead of time)
5 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon each of rosemary, sage, and thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
For the chicken and vegetables
One 3–4 pound roasting chicken
½ pound each, of parsnips, turnips, carrots, and onions cut into 2-inch wide pieces
1 ½ pounds fingerling potatoes, cut in half
1 ½ to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ cups dry red or white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Roast garlic with the oil at 350°F for 15 minutes or until tender, then remove it from the oven. (Leave the oven on, and turn it up to 450°F.) Mash the garlic, then mash the butter and add garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper, and mix thoroughly.
2. Gently loosen the skin of the washed and dried chicken, and lift it to create small pockets in the skin. Distribute the garlic butter under the skin and smooth some on the outside of the bird.
3. Place the chicken on a rack in a large roasting pan and distribute the vegetables in the pan around the chicken. You can leave the chicken upright, or roast for 20 minutes on each side and 20 minutes breast side up.
4. Stir and turn the vegetables every 20 minutes or so.
5. The chicken is completely cooked when the dark meat registers 175°F. Remove the chicken from the oven and allow it to rest for 10 minutes before carving.
6. To serve, arrange vegetables around the chicken on a platter.
2 whole chicken breasts and 4 chicken legs with thighs
1 cup all-purpose flour; salt and pepper to taste
1–2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large leek, thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
8 garlic cloves, 4 left whole, 4 sliced thinly
2 tablespoons each fresh rosemary and thyme
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
4 parsnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 cups dry red wine
3 cups chicken broth, and 1 bay leaf
1 cup coarsely chopped parsley
Preheat oven to 350°F.
1. Cut the chicken into 14 pieces (each breast into 3, and separate the legs from the thighs).
2. Place flour, salt, and pepper into a large zip-lock bag. Dredge each piece of chicken and reserve any left-over flour.
3. In a large, oven-proof pot with a lid, heat one tablespoon of the vegetable oil and brown a few pieces of chicken at a time on each side until golden in color.
4. Wipe out the pot with paper towels, add olive oil, and heat for 20 seconds. Add the leek, onion, all the garlic, and half the herbs. Heat and stir for about 5 minutes.
5. Add the carrots and parsnips, and cook for another 5 minutes. Add 1 ½ tablespoons of the remaining flour to the vegetables and stir. Cook for one minute.
6. Raise the heat to high and add the wine. Boil for 3 minutes. Add the broth and boil for another 2 minutes. Add the chicken, reduce the heat, and add the remaining herbs, the bay leaf, and ½ the parsley, salt, and pepper.
7. Cover the pot and remove from heat. Place in oven and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes until the chicken is tender and almost falling off the bone. Taste for seasoning and serve, adding a little parsley to each bowl as it is served.