As we did last year, the French Fridays with Dorie cooking group is participating in the international Food Revolution Day. This year, Jamie Oliver is asking people “get kids excited about food” To that end, we are all choosing recipes from around my french table that we think every child should know how to make.
I guess that I was really fortunate in that when I was growing up in Michigan, cooking was something that was expected to be learned and to be fun! And not just by girls. My mother was absolutely adamant that all four of my (much :)) older brothers learned to cook – at least enough to survive. Remember, this was the midwest, and all of them were born in the 50s. So they all did! At a bare minimum, they were required to be able to make eggs, and toast, and other basics. Truth be told (apologies to my sisters-in-law), they are all better cooks than their spouses. Some more than others. Some more special occasions more than day-to-day. But they all can be counted on to lend a skilled hand, if not prepare the entire meal, and a great one at that.
That kind of makes it sound like my folks were special – and they were. Definitely the forward-thinking pair in the group, and certainly out in front of trends. But when I was in middle school, every kid was required to take different classes that were broken into quarters: Art, Study Hall, Shop and Home Economics. That meant that while girls got to use all sorts of tools and make things in shop, boys also got to learn to cook and do some basic sewing. All of these classes were mixed with boys and girls together by grade, and it was great fun. We also all had to take Earth Science in 7th grade. Well, that was taught be a former football player, now coach, who believed that every kid should have some idea of how a car runs, and what basics (like changing the oil or a tire) are required for drivers. Amazing!
I guess the other thing about growing up there (this was a small town, didn’t top 1000 people in the 1980 census), was that we all had to keep busy. My friends would alternate between our parents’ houses, and each allowed us to do different things. Art projects, listening to music (and pretending we were the Monkeys!), running around outside – or – cooking. I remember making homemade doughnuts one time (basically unsupervised)! But it kept us busy, and always learning something new.
So, on to this crazy notion of children learning to love to cook. You can imagine that in my family, it was kind of expected. And since I’m often in charge of holiday planning, helping to teach kids to cook often fell to me too. Not that it’s a problem – I’ll let you in on a secret, I actually have a degree in Home Economics Education, not that I’m a teacher or anything these days. Over the years, the kids in our family have been tasked with many recipes, and I’m always amazed and pleased with how well they do. For this year’s Food Revolution Day, I didn’t have anyone available to cook with me, though I did get some advice about what to make. While there are many terrific basics in Dorie’s book, and it was difficult to choose just one, there are other things that I think are must knows: basic eggs (scrambled, boiled, soft-boiled); quick breads like muffins or biscuits; a basic cake; a quesadilla; steamed vegetables; a baked potato; a roast chicken – oh wait, now there’s something that Dorie knows a lot about!
So yes, I made roast chicken for les paresseux. What could be better than a roast chicken for Sunday dinner? Or something that can easily be pulled together on a week night (sure, throw it in the oven, go back to studying, and pull it out of the oven for a fabulous meal in 90 minutes!!)? And the great thing is that while it’s even better with a fancy organic chicken, it still works with your garden variety bird. Don’t have any fresh herbs on hand? No worries! It’s totally adaptable, and simple.
I did happen to have the fancy bird, and fresh herbs from the garden (oregano, chives, sage and thyme). I even went with the “official trick” of using the bread in the bottom of the pan (but likely never again). It’s just the simplest thing to put together. Dorie has a really important note about whether to wash a bird or not. Coincidentally, there have been many recent media reports suggesting that it’s actually more harmful to wash a bird because any juices can splatter, potentially onto foods or surfaces that won’t be cooked prior to consuming. Don’t wash your bird! (just drain out any juice that’s accumulated)
This method uses a covered heavy pan for the bird. I’ve had plenty of success with an open pan if you (and mainly thinking of people just out on their own) don’t have a Dutch oven. The pan is oiled, and a slice or two of bread placed on the bottom (the bread trick) – it’s not necessary. In fact, if I were using rosemary or something like that, I’d put that down on the bottom of the pan. Nevertheless, the chicken is seasoned inside and out, herbs placed inside, and a whole head of garlic is sliced in half, one placed inside the bird and another on the outside. The remaining herbs are strewn around. Since I had plenty of onions, I added about half of them at this time too. A big splash or two of wine into the pot, it gets covered, and then placed in a 450 degree oven for about 45 minutes.
I had originally planned for just the herbs and garlic, but during it’s initial roast, I found that I had some russet potatoes around, so prepped them to add about halfway through the roasting time. Of course, other potato types, carrots, other root vegetables or other hearty vegetables would be terrific additions.
This gets placed back in the oven for a final 45 minutes. This isn’t particularly fussy, since it’s covered and there is moisture, so you don’t really need to worry about the chicken drying out. This method does not produce a bird completely covered with crispy skin, but it’s so much easier than worrying about timing.
The bird can wait a few minutes, and served simply – carved at the table, chunked up in the kitchen then placed on a platter (particularly easy to serve this way – I cut each of the legs into two pieces, then each breast in half – one side gets the wing attached – this produces 8 fairly even pieces, and allows easy serving of both dark and white meat). There is a bit of sauce too, and can be served with the bird, or saved for later. And don’t forget that roasted garlic, perfect to serve with the chicken.
Of course, while a fine roast chicken just from the oven is fabulous, the genius of this whole concept is that there are (or should be – if not, roast 2!) leftovers. There are so many things that you can use that leftover chicken for, here are just a few:
Chicken on a(ny) salad
Chinese chicken salad
Actual chicken salad for a sandwich, or on a half avocado or tomato
Chicken pot pie
Creamed chicken on toast
Chicken enchiladas, quesadillas, tacos…
Chicken and (fill in the blank) casserole
So, my French Friday Food Revolution pick is the simple roast chicken, certainly something that is easily mastered, and should be. Please check here to see what the other Doristas chose for their projects.