This chicken was a labor of love. My police officer worked a crazy long day, so I got it into my wifey-head that he might like to come home to a hot dinner and I spent the entire day prepping for it. Naturally, this is me we’re talking about here, so, of course, it did not end well.
I rarely shy away from laborious recipes, but after the second hour of cooking I find myself muttering things like, “This better be worth it,” and, “I have to let this sit for how long?” But as the footnote at the bottom of the recipe states – if you want great chicken, suck it up.
My relationship with roasted chicken has been a tumultuous one – it’s never consistent, some nights I end up with a beautifully roasted bird with golden skin and juicy meat, and I could make the same recipe two nights later only to have it turn up dry as sawdust and tasting like wood chips. I can’t explain it, but know this – chicken will not have the last word.
So I salted the bird the night before, tucked a few nubs of garlic and sprigs of thyme under the skin, swaddled the whole thing in plastic wrap and waited for the magic to happen. Salting it ahead of time gives the meat more time to season and guarantees a glossy skin, crisp as parchment paper, the sort that shatters under your fingertips with a few taps against the thigh. Now really, that’s the easy part. It’s the 20-step, 15-ingredient (numbers not actual) bread salad that will make you wonder if maybe you shouldn’t just toss a bag of steamable broccoli into the microwave.
But I whisked and cooked and dressed and broiled until it all came together, packed it up into the car along with our naughty mutt and managed to keep that naughty mutt under control until the seventy-mile gap between that police officer and I closed and we were together again. So, being the chivalrous man that he is, he takes the bag of dinner out my hand, announces it’s too heavy for me to carry, and then, of course, the bottom of the bag rips out, bread salad topples all over the floor, the chicken slid across the hardwood like a hockey puck and I stood there, wide-eyed, before excusing myself to cry in the basement.
I think you and I, dear readers, have known each other long enough for me to confess this to you – we ate it anyway. After my police officer explained to me that he had seen many, many terrifying things that day, having dinner fall on the floor didn’t scare him in the least, and he would happily eat it. So, if you find a man who will eat the dinner that fell on the floor and does the dishes, marries him.
Oh, and this dish is insanely good. It’s a melody of flavors – vinegary, sweet, sour, salty, bitter, peppery – there’s not a bite that doesn’t hit every single one of your taste buds. I have seen some version of this that had pine-nuts thrown into the bread salad, so if you’d like to add “crunchy” to that list, by all mean, toss in 2 tablespoons of toasted pine-nuts. Also, don’t try and get away with a larger bird – you need a lower ratio of skin-to-meat to get the most flavor, juiciness, and crispy skin.
Roast Chicken with Warm Bread Salad
Adapted from The Essential NY Times Cookbook
For the Chicken
One 2 1/2 – 3-pound chicken
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
For the Salad
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon warm water
1 tablespoon dried currants or cranberries
6 cups stale Tuscan-style bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup Champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, slivered
4 scallions, thinly sliced
3 cups mixed bitter greens (arugula, chicory and/or frisee)
To prepare the chicken, the day before serving, sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Run your fingers between the skin and flesh over the breasts and legs to make 4 small pockets. Place a sprig of thyme and a clove of garlic in each pocket. Wrap the chicken in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
About 2 hours before serving, start the salad. Heat the broiler. Combine the red wine vinegar and warm water in a small bowl with the dried currants/cranberries and let soak for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, toss the bread cubes with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil on a baking sheet and broil for 2 minutes. Set aside.
Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place the chicken breast side up in a shallow roasting pan. Roast for 30 minutes.
Turn the chicken over and roast until the juices run clear when the chicken is pricked in the thickest part of the thigh, about 15-20 minutes longer. Let stand for 10 minutes, leaving the oven on.
Whisk together the mustard, champagne vinegar, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in 2 teaspoon olive oil. Add the bread and toss to coat. Set aside.
Heat the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil in a small nonstick saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and scallions and cook for 2 minutes. Drain the currants and toss them in the bread mixture, along with the scallions and garlic. Place the salad in a baking dish. (It fit perfectly in an 8×8 for me.)
When the chicken is done, place the salad in the oven and bake for 5 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the salad in for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, carve the chicken and reserve the pan juices.
Toss the salad with 2 tablespoons of the pan juices and the greens. Divide the salad among 4 plates and top with 2 pieces of chicken.