The weather is shifting from the hot, come-hither days of summer to the chilly slant of autumn and it seems everyone is craving comfort. And maybe it’s not just because we’re heading indoors to flee the cold. Perhaps the “nostalgiancholy” that hits this time of year, where everything seems steeped in memories and somehow raw with emotion, is making us crave something richer, something more soulful.
I was getting a haircut recently when conversation turned to comfort foods (between Kathleen, Deirdre and me in that salon, conversation often turns to food). We started with what to cook in a big, old Le Creuset . . . which led us to braised pork shoulder and various types of stews . . . which led to Kathleen’s method of roasting chicken in her Dutch oven.
“Roast chicken saved my life once,” Deirdre chimed in. Her gaze was distant. She, someone who loves to cook, went on to tell of the early days after a rough divorce when just gathering groceries leveled her, sparse as they were for one. So for a time she turned to frozen meals and convenience foods while the sorrow swept through.
And then, she roasted a chicken.
“It warmed the house up and made it smell like somebody lived there again,” Deirdre said. “It made me feel like things were OK, like I was OK.” Amazing how food has the power to do that; to wrap itself around us like a giant, ephemeral hug.
For all our talk of mac ‘n’ cheese and braises and pizza and soup, in Deirdre’s words, I heard the true meaning of comfort food.
Simplest Roast Chicken
I’ll admit it: I’m a lazy chicken roaster. There are techniques that have you rotating the bird every few minutes so that it turns browns evenly, but I like to pop it in the oven and not think about it again (aside from swooning over the scent) until the timer goes off for good. And good—very good—is what we’ve found this bird to be. You don’t have to use an organic, free-range chicken, but we’ve found that it pays off in both flavor and juiciness.
1 (3-1/2 pound) good-quality chicken (take this to mean what you like: free-range, locally-raised, organic . . . just preferably not a brine-injected, mass-produced one)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
8 thyme sprigs
1 lemon, halved lengthwise
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Gently work your fingertips under the breast, leg and thigh, and rub meat with salt and pepper (I like to fill a separate little ramekin with a mix of salt and pepper to do this so I don’t get my pepper grinder all chickeny). Sprinkle more salt and pepper on top of skin and in cavity. Stuff the thyme sprigs under the skin and the lemon halves into the cavity.
Roast on a v-rack in a roasting pan, breast side up, for 60-75 minutes, until the legs pull away easily and the juices run clear. Let chicken stand at room temperature for 15 minutes (tent it with foil to keep it warm) before carving.