Ever since my dad became a pescatarian, a roast chicken is something my mother and I often share. On the guilty pleasure spectrum, it falls somewhere between these wings and this healthy green soup. But regardless of how much fat collects at the bottom of the pan, and how many potatoes are placed there to soak and crisp in its chickeny goodness, the pleasure part is as much linked to ritual as it is to how good that chicken feels in my stomach as I do the crossword puzzle.
Our roast chicken ritual, like the wings, should of course inspire some degree of guilt and shame. A typical roast chicken afternoon goes something like this: my mom dresses the bird, sticks it in the oven, and goes about her business. The chicken comes out at some point mid-afternoon in between two acceptable meal hours. One of us cuts off a little piece for ourselves and puts it on a plate with some good French Dijon mustard. Then the next one does the same. At this point, there’s usually a crossword puzzle involved.
The chicken sits out on the stove top until the next acceptable meal hour approaches, at which point one or both of us is found pulling apart hard-to-reach chicken pieces with our fingers, smearing them around in the fatty pan juices, and sticking them in our mouths. The juices drip down our faces until there’s no choice left but to use a napkin.
This little chicken dance, back and forth to the stovetop, usually ends when the chicken is nothing but a skeleton and neither of us is hungry for dinner. At which point my dad rolls his eyes and either orders take out or makes this oatmeal.
The ironic part of this ritual is that roast chicken might be the only thing I remember my dad ever making for me. In the early days of Ina’s success, my dad felt inspired to try her perfect roast chicken. Like most of her recipes, this one was particularly idiot proof. But regardless, my dad always felt particularly proud of the results, which no matter how delicious, meant putting a meal on the table all on his own.
But now it’s just the two of us, and the scene plays out over and over again during long weekends at the barn or winter escapes to Martha’s Vineyard. It’s usually a fall affair, but this summer the island nights turned chilly, and we shared a roast chicken with red wine in August. The only difference this time, besides the season, is that I got to have a hand in making the chicken. After my mother stuffed the cavity with some thyme from the garden, I decided to try out Barbara Kafka’s genius Food52 method of high heat and no trussing. I had done this once before to excellent results, and this time was no different, though I think my mom still prefers her way.
Give it a try one night this fall, perhaps even on a Sunday, when the crossword is particularly hard and you can justify a few extra trips to the stove as a distraction.
Roast Chicken with Thyme
Preheat the oven to 500°F.
Stuff the cavity of the chicken with the lemon, garlic, butter and thyme. Season the cavity and skin with salt and pepper.
Place the chicken in a 12 x 8 x 1 1/2-inch roasting pan or 15-inch cast iron skillet breast side up. Put in the oven legs first and roast 25 minutes. Toss the potatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt. Add the potatoes to the roasting pan in a n even layer, cut-side down. Return the chicken to the oven for another 25-30 minutes, until the juices run clear.
All the chicken to rest for 15 minutes. Then carve it and serve alongside the roasted potatoes.