May the Hanukkah lights find you together with loved ones.
It is a dark and rainy morning as I write this. It’s not yet winter, but it feels just as cold and grim as a January day. I’m planning a Hanukkah supper for Sunday night. It will be a warm and cozy meal, with a crackling roasted chicken, and the comfort of candlelight.
After the elaborate rituals of roasting a turkey for Thanksgiving, cooking a chicken seems delightfully simple. And yet, it took me years to end up here. It might be that my learning curve for the elemental is very steep – it took me about 20 years to master cooking rice, after all. And I will be serving rice for dinner, too, without a qualm. The low pressure and low stakes of home cooking are far removed from the noisy and volatile world of restaurant cooking. No one is seeking Michelin stars for this roasted chicken, but this is a meal will nourish both body and soul.
I prefer Mark Bittman’s most simple roasted chicken recipe. I will add a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, as per instructions. It grows in a pot at the bottom of the back porch steps. It has thrived there for almost five years. A warm kitchen, redolent with cooked chicken and warmed rosemary is heady and almost therapeutic.
Simplest Roast Chicken
By Mark Bittman
1 whole chicken, 3 to 4 pounds, trimmed of excess fat
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A few sprigs fresh tarragon, rosemary, or thyme (optional)
5 or 6 cloves garlic, peeled (optional)
Chopped fresh herbs for garnish
1. Heat the oven to 450°F. Five minutes after turning on the oven, put a cast-iron or other heavy ovenproof skillet on a rack set low in the oven. Rub the chicken with the olive oil, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and put the herb sprigs on it if you’re using them.
2. When both oven and pan are hot, 10 or 15 minutes later, carefully put the chicken, breast side up, in the hot skillet; if you’re using garlic, scatter it around the bird. (This is the part I like best – the inherent danger in balancing a slick, unwieldy naked bird, and hefting it into a sizzling cast iron pan with any amount of accuracy. Unnerving! Small town risk taker!) Roast, undisturbed, for 40 to 50 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the meaty part of the thigh registers 155–165°F.
3. Tip the pan to let the juices from the bird’s cavity flow into the pan (if they are red, cook for another 5 minutes). Transfer the bird to a platter and let it rest; if you like, pour the pan juices into a clear measuring cup, then pour or spoon off some of the fat. Reheat the juices if necessary, cut the chicken into pieces, garnish, and serve with the pan juices.
Jessie Ware and her feisty mother, Lennie, host a delightful food podcast, Table Manners. Lennie is very proud of her Jewish roots and her traditional Sunday roast and veg. Most weeks they cook a meal for their celebrity guests, while consuming copious amounts of wine and chattering and talking with their mouths full.
Alison Roman, a cook after my own heart, has a delightful cookbook, “Nothing Fancy” with this recipe for roasting a chicken: https://www.alisoneroman.com/recipes/slow-roasted-oregano-chicken-with-buttered-tomatoes I like the jammy tomatoes and the oodles of garlic.
Julia Child, little Miss Fancy Pants, goes all out with vegetables and then massages and trusses the chicken! I have to remember to slice carrots the same way – the oblique angles make them look so attractive, and French! https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/julias-favorite-roast-chicken
Thomas Keller’s chicken is simpler, and more crisp. Although he trusses the bird, too. I’m not sure about slathering butter or mustard on cooked chicken, but that’s me. Maybe you are more adventurous? https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/my-favorite-simple-roast-chicken-231348
If these are not options you are seeking, wander through this pretty thorough compendium of roast chicken recipes: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes-menus/roast-chicken-variations-gallery
Roasted chicken is as simple, or as complicated, as you want to make it. It is an economic meal that will also generate leftovers, sandwiches, and soup. It is practically a miracle in this cold dark season when we search for hope. Happy Hanukkah!
“Hanukkah’s miracle isn’t about the oil lasting eight days, rather it’s about the resilience of light amidst darkness.”
― Abhijit Naskar