Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dinner for two. Roast chicken.

I have been craving roast chicken for a while now, and finally last week I decided that it would make a good Sunday dinner, with perhaps some roasted vegetables on the side. I think roast chicken may be one of my favorite dishes. I have tried all kinds - brined or rubbed with butter or stuffed with lemons or garlic or herbs (or all of the above), basted with white wine or left alone, roasted on a rack in a roasting pan or without a rack on a Le Creuset casserole resting on a bed of onions - but I find simpler is better. Tonight's roast chicken is laid on a bed of sliced onions in my newest Le Creuset pot, an oval casserole (my last birthday present from D.), and seasoned with generous amounts of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. I mean to crush several cloves of garlic and toss them in the pan, but somehow I forget, distracted by the movie I was watching between cleaning up the kitchen and getting ready for dinner, an early Merchant-Ivory production filmed in India.

Once the chicken is in the oven and the smell of roasting onions begins to emerge I turn to the vegetables. As I clean out the fridge I find carrots and potatoes and a bag of Brussels sprouts. I love Brussels sprouts. I think, lazily, that perhaps I will take a shortcut this time, throw them together in a pan and bake them in the toaster oven, instead of cooking the Brussels sprouts in my usual way. They are on the large side, so I merely trim the stems and outer leaves, then split them in half; none of this poncing about with paring knives, carving neat X's in their bottoms, always a dangerous task. I don't bother to peel the carrots, or the potatoes (although I do scrub off the rougher bits of the latter), only chopping them in more-or-less evenly sized chunks, not bigger than the Brussels sprout halves. Into a bowl they go, sprinkled with olive oil and more sea salt and tossed by hand, poured into one of the many Pyrex baking dishes that are stacked precariously in my pantry, slipped into the ridiculously large toaster oven that is very useful for things like this.

About halfway through, the roasting chicken gets flipped breast-side up (I always start with the chicken breast-side down), sprinkled with a little more salt and pepper. The roasting vegetables get stirred up a bit as the ones on top start to brown. Sooner than I think possible (it helps that I am distracted by a movie) it is all ready. The chicken is deeply browned, the breast smooth and almost round beneath the paper-thin skin. It looks perfect, but I cannot resist wrecking its dark perfection by stealing a few bits of skin. I eat the liver and heart and giblets straight from the pot, rich and intensely flavored with onion. C. arrives before I start eating in earnest, and we sit down to plates of chicken and roast vegetables and the first season of Mad Men on dvd. I think again of how good roast chicken is when it is merely sprinkled with salt and pepper, nothing else, except perhaps the lingering aroma of onions. It tastes like chicken, no other spices or herbs or aromatics to confuse the palate, obscuring the real flavor of the meat.

After all that I feel that we ought to round the meal off with some fresh brownies hot from the oven and a glass of milk, and C. concurs. It takes only minutes to throw together a pan of brownies, stick it in the (toaster) oven, set the timer. In about half an hour they are ready, warm and a little bit on the squidgy side, oozing chocolate (I had thrown some chocolate chips into the batter) with every bite. A bite of brownie, a sip of milk, warm and cold all at once. And I am happy, curled up on the sofa under a fuzzy blanket, a moment of rest before the grind of the week begins.

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