When Roast Chicken Was a Special Occasion

When I was growing up, there were meal patterns that could pretty much be relied upon. Saturday nights were hamburgers, Sundays were beef pot roast, mashed potatoes and gravy. Monday or Tuesday usually made use of the leftover roast in the form of soup or was just reheated; leftover mashed potatoes became potato (pan)cakes. Pasta would make an appearance one night, sometimes macaroni and cheese; other times spaghetti with meat sauce. Meat loaf, ham slices or pork chops might round out the rest of a typical week. Chicken was most often cut up and fried, sometimes with mashed potatoes and gravy; other times with waffles and gravy (the partial Pennsylvania Dutch heritage showing itself.) 

Rarely did we have roast chicken. I won't say "never", it just seems to me, looking back, that it was an uncommon occurrence. I vaguely remember thinking that it must be hard to roast a chicken, because it really didn't happen much more than the roast turkey or whole ham we would have on holidays.

What I've learned in my own cooking experiences is just how easy it is to roast chicken. So easy that it's not out of the question for us to enjoy it on a weeknight. The method we've adopted is based on the signature dish of chef Jonathan Waxman's restaurants, which include Barbuto (New York) and Adele's (Nashville). The chicken itself is ridiculously simple and plainly delicious, with only salt, pepper and olive oil for the roasting. What makes the dish special is the fresh salsa verde that goes along with it. Combining arugula, parsley, fresh herbs, lots of garlic, capers, anchovies and a little hot pepper, it makes an amazing, fresh accompaniment to the chicken. 

Let's talk about that chicken for a minute. If you want to make amazing roast chicken, let me suggest that you NOT go to the grocery store. Find yourself a farmer's market with a local producer who raises organically fed, free range chickens. It will be more expensive than buying at the store, but it is absolutely worth the money. The two of us always get at least two meals out of a whole chicken--sometimes three, if there's breast meat that can be incorporated into a dinner-sized salad. 

When we first started making Jonathan Waxman's roast chicken, we watched this video to get the cutting technique and the salsa verde ingredients down. One note on the salsa verde is that we use WAY less olive oil than Mr. Waxman recommends. It's also the opinion in our household that the salsa verde doesn't keep that well as leftover, so we're cautious not to make more than we will eat when the chicken is first served. 

What are your meal patterns? We no longer have certain dishes on specific days of the week, but this roast chicken is one of our go-to's when we want a simple meal that will give us a day or two of leftovers that we can combine with veggies, beans or salads. 

 

Waxman calls for everything to be rough-chopped, which we do. We just use less olive oil than recommended to finish the salsa verde. 

Waxman calls for everything to be rough-chopped, which we do. We just use less olive oil than recommended to finish the salsa verde. 

It doesn't get much simpler than this--the two chicken halves go in the roasting pan, fat side up, with just a little olive oil, salt and pepper on each side.

It doesn't get much simpler than this--the two chicken halves go in the roasting pan, fat side up, with just a little olive oil, salt and pepper on each side.

The plated version. Although the entire half never gets consumed in one sitting and the skin gets discarded, we like to put the salsa verde right on top of the roasted half.

The plated version. Although the entire half never gets consumed in one sitting and the skin gets discarded, we like to put the salsa verde right on top of the roasted half.