Want a dish that keeps on giving? Roast a chicken

Rosemary roasted chicken with red grapes is an elegant and fragrant dish easy enough for everyday cooking but fancy enough for company. (Dreamstime/Tribune News Service)

For the amount of time I have spent in the kitchen, one would think that roasting a chicken would be old hat by now. I should have dozens of roasted chickens in my culinary past. Sadly, until last year, I could count the number of chickens I’ve roasted in my lifetime on one hand.

Why?

Maybe it’s the dried-out chicken breasts the teen in me remembers eating at friends’ homes that made me fearful that I could do no better.

Or maybe it’s the intimidation of staring at an entire chicken on a cutting board, string in hand, trying to figure out what the heck “truss” means?

Perhaps it’s just the convenience factor of being able to swing by nearly any grocery store these days to pick up a rotisserie chicken, no knowledge of trussing required.

You know what, though? At least half of the time, those rotisserie chickens have been sitting under hot lights long enough for the breasts to dry out anyway, and the meat on the legs becomes so hard as to render it inedible.

The idea of roasting a chicken at home was becoming more and more appealing with every disappointing store-bought rotisserie chicken.

And, honestly, is there anything like the smell of a roasting chicken as it filters throughout the house? For me, the smell stirs memories of weekends spent gathered around the kitchen table, with family members fighting over who got the drumsticks.

A freshly roasted chicken straight out of the oven is comfort food times 10.

Depending on the size of the chicken, it’s also a dish that keeps on giving. Leftovers are perfect for chicken salad or shredded for chicken tacos, ideal for soups, or even tossed with greens for a satisfying salad.

I started the year determined to roast more chickens. So far, I’ve only done it a few times.

The first one I made this year, I followed the much-hyped recipe from Jamie Oliver for chicken roasted in milk with cinnamon. It was tasty and different and a recipe I plan to try again. (I had no sage when I made it, and in hindsight, it needed the bitterness of sage to balance out the sweet warmth of the cinnamon.)

Then there’s this version of roasted chicken inspired by a book I recently added to my Kindle library.

After having “The Flavor Bible” mentioned to me at least a half-dozen times in less than a week, I bought it and I’m so happy I did. “The Flavor Bible” is not a recipe book. It’s a reference book with more than 600 entries listing compatible flavor combinations. I find the book inspiring, sparking new ideas for recipes. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut of using the same ingredients and the same familiar recipes, but this book helps me in truly creative ways by listing unique ingredient combinations I would not have thought of on my own.

For example, roasting chicken with grapes.

This idea came about after reading the entry for grapes. It was in the middle of summer, and I had a large bag of ripe red Muscato grapes sitting in my refrigerator. Although excellent for eating out of hand, they were screaming for more creative use.

According to “The Flavor Bible,” grapes pair perfectly with nearly all of this dish’s ingredients. I just went down the list of compatible flavors under the grape heading, checking off ingredients I already had on hand to come up with this recipe. Not having tried this combination before, I bit the bullet and went with it, adjusting amounts as I experimented. This roast chicken is moist, fragrant and utterly delicious. It’s an elegant dish easy enough for everyday cooking but fancy enough for company.

Muscato grape season has just passed, but any seedless red grape will do. Some of the grapes burst while roasting, their juices mingling with the butter and olive oil, creating a lovely sauce for the chicken. I left a few grapes on the vines just for the photos; I suggest you take them all off the vine when you make the recipe.

As for trussing the chicken — which involves tying the wings and legs close to the body — skip it if you like, but it helps keep the breasts from overcooking by limiting the amount of air circulating into the breast cavity.

For guidance on how long to roast chickens, I rely on Julia Child’s expertise to determine roasting time: In a 450-degree oven, start with 45 minutes and add seven minutes for each pound. You’ll need a 10- to 12-inch heavy skillet (preferably cast iron, although my cast iron is only 8 inches, so I used my commercial grade Calphalon skillet).

Another pro tip: Preheat your skillet. Doing so not only shortens the cooking time, but it gives the thighs a little more heat, so they start cooking immediately. Just wait until you hear that sizzle the moment the chicken makes contact with the hot pan — it’s a beautiful sound!

ROSEMARY ROASTED CHICKEN WITH RED GRAPES

For best results, allow the chicken to rest on the counter 30 minutes prior to starting the recipe. A too-cold chicken going into a hot oven will render uneven cooking throughout. If trussing the chicken, you’ll need kitchen twine. There are plenty of videos on YouTube with trussing how-tos if you are unsure how to truss a chicken. Or you can simply tie the legs together.

Servings: 6-8

For the compound butter:

3 tablespoons butter, room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated black pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary

1 clove garlic, minced

Zest from one medium lemon

For the grapes:

1 1/2 pounds red seedless grapes

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped

For the chicken:

4 1/2- to 5-pound chicken

1/2 of a lemon

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

Place your oven-safe skillet on the middle rack of your oven; preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Make the compound butter by placing all the ingredients in a small bowl and stirring well to incorporate; set aside.

Rinse the grapes, shaking off excess water, then place in a bowl. Drizzle the olive oil and vinegar over the grapes. Sprinkle with the salt and the chopped mint; toss to coat, and set aside.

Rinse, then pat the chicken dry, including the cavity, with several sheets of paper towels. Place the chicken on a work surface with the cavity facing you. Carefully slide two fingers between the skin and breast meat to create pockets to fill with the compound butter, taking care not to tear the skin. Massage a quarter of the butter directly onto each breast under the skin. Slice the lemon in half and place both halves into the chicken’s cavity along with the two sprigs of rosemary. Truss the chicken or tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Massage the remaining butter all over the chicken.

Carefully pull the hot pan out of the oven and onto the stove. Lay the chicken in the center (chicken will sizzle), and surround the chicken with the grapes, making sure to scrape out the olive oil and mint from the bowl with a rubber spatula. Return skillet to the oven and roast for 70-80 minutes, until the temperature in the thickest part of the leg reaches 162 degrees. Remove the chicken from the oven. It will continue to cook and will hit the 165-degree safe zone while resting. Let it rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.

Serve the chicken with the grapes and some of the pan juices on the side. Brown rice, green beans, broccoli or a green salad make excellent sides.

Debone the completely cooled leftover chicken before storing it in the refrigerator. Save the carcass to make a killer homemade bone broth.

(Recipe is copyrighted by Anita L. Arambula from "Confessions of a Foodie." Reprinted by permission.)

Recommended for you