I had my high school reunion this past weekend. It started a bit awkwardly with hugs outside of the high school football stadium. I found myself feeling a little anxious--the same way I used to feel when I was going on a first date. When I hugged a former classmate hello and smelled beer on his breath, I honestly thought to myself, "Maybe I should have had a drink before coming to this."
After a couple of how-ya-beens and what-have-you-done-with-your-lifes, I realized I didn't need that drink. It turns out that ten years isn't that long to go between conversations with old friends. We laughed about trouble we used to get into, and the commiserated that we weren't such bad kids after all. Nearly everyone who attended already had one or two of their own kids (or maybe thinking about having some in the future) so we are starting to understand why we had early curfews, strict parents, and nosy teachers. They, the older and wiser generation, had a better idea of what was ahead of us than we could ever have imagined. I wish I could say thank you to them. If you're out there reading this: thank you.
I also think I had a nice time because I'm in such a good place in my life. Married to a handsome, kind man, working a job I enjoy, helping to raise a daughter, and carrying out the vision for my "victory lap" year. I've lost a little weight. I've made some new friends. I'm focused on improving my overall health. I'm happy. How many people can say that about their lives?
It may sound corny, but I'm certain my happiness has spilled over into the way I cook. I buy healthier foods and prepare them more thoughtfully. I research recipes more thoroughly but still feel follow my instinct in the kitchen.
Take chicken for example. Offensive things are done to what could be a lovely, flavorful meat. Just this afternoon on the Cooking Channel, I witnessed the host of a show making Pizza-fied Chicken. It was a bit ridiculous. She put string cheese on it, for goodness sake. Do we have to trick ourselves into thinking chicken is pizza in order to enjoy it? Can't we just leave pizza and chicken in different categories altogether? Perhaps I'm alone on this one, but is it so hard to just season it, roast it, and eat it. Is that so difficult? (That kind of common sense would probably put some cooking shows out of business!)
I don't say this often, but I've recently come upon the most perfect roast chicken recipe. So simple and delicious that a novice could master it with only a handful of ingredients and a hot oven. The chicken is juicy with incredible flavor and reheats in the oven for wonderful leftovers the next day.
And if I had to recommend a must-have kitchen item for a home-cook, I would most emphatically say a meat thermometer. There is absolutely no way to tell if a bird or roast is cooked to the desired doneness without it. So go get one at once if you haven't got one already.
And then make this roast chicken.
A quick note before you get to the recipe: don't forget that Monday, October 31 is the day to submit your Culinary Smackdown: Battle Winter Squash entry. I will put up a "host post" here on my blog on Sunday with my own winter squash creations and you can link to your entry from there.
Spatchcocked Roast Chicken
recipe slightly adapted from food52
serves 4 to 6
In a pinch, I've found that a quick zap in the microwave at 10 second intervals will soften butter up. If you go too far in softening it, toss it in the freezer for a minute or two and it will quickly solidify. Also, an organic or natural, hormone-free chicken will always taste better than a conventional supermarket chicken. It's worth the extra investment.
4 tbsp butter, softened
Zest of one small lemon
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp fresh thyme
1 3-4 lb whole chicken
salt & pepper
In a small bowl, combine softened butter, lemon zest, minced garlic, Dijon mustard, and a pinch of each salt & pepper. Set aside.
Discard any neck or gizzards from the chicken. Pat dry with a paper towel. Set the chicken, breast down, on a cutting board. Using kitchen shears, start at the tail end of the bird cut along each side of the backbone to remove it. This should expose the inside of the chicken. Press it open slightly and sprinkle the cavity of the bird with salt and pepper.
Flip the bird over so that it is breast side up. Press down between the breasts with your hands so that the bird lies flat. Trim away any excess fat and skin from around the cavity of the bird. Then gently slide your fingers under the skin of the breast and legs to loosen it from the meat. Smear 2/3 of the compound butter under the skin of the bird. Spread the leftover compound butter over the outside of the skin and then sprinkle the bird with salt & pepper.
Lay the chicken in shallow roasting pan, such as a 9 x 13 casserole dish, and put it in the refrigerator uncovered for 1 to 2 hours. When you're ready to roast the bird, heat the oven to 425 degrees F and remove the chicken from the refrigerator. Roast the chicken at 425 degrees F for 20 minutes, then baste with the accumulated juices in the pan, and reduce heat to 375 degrees F. Roast for another 15 to 30 minutes, basting at least once more during the cooking time, until the thermometer when inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads 165 degrees F. Remove from oven and allow to rest, tented with foil, for at least 10 minutes before carving.