Love letter #10, roasted chicken over bread

Comfort food is so important to me. It makes you feel good, both physically and mentally. I don’t pretend that I like a lot of typical comfort food—lots of crockpot recipes with cream cheese, cheap cheese, bacon, etc. added. It’s uninspiring and so heavy. Easy, yes, and I understand why people make those dishes, but to me, it’s a no and honestly really unappetizing.

Comfort food to me is an entire roasted chicken with root vegetables, it’s slow-braised ragu that’s been in the oven for hours, it’s chicken cacciatore with polenta, it’s coq au vin with hearty vegetables and a to-die-for wine sauce. Comfort food should be simple, but so elegant and so tasty. It’s not a complicated dish with a thousand ingredients. Comfort food uses ingredients you already have at home, and within a few hours can have dinner on the table. It’s going to bed with a full stomach while you’re wrapped up in cozy blankets. Comfort food is bliss.

My favorite elegant comfort dish is a spin on Ina’s “Roasted chicken over bread with arugula salad”. You can find the recipe here or in her book “Barefoot Contessa: Make It Ahead”.

I’ve done many variations of this dish, including her recipe to a T. I’ve spatchcocked the chicken, switched up the salad, used different breads, etc. Ina’s original recipe is amazing, but I have made a couple of tweaks so that Alex and I enjoy it immensely.

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Liberally season your chicken. You need lots of flavor!

Add your minced garlic underneath the skin of the chicken, and very liberally salt and pepper the bird. Chicken has great flavor, but it needs to be heavily seasoned to not be bland. Leave it in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Once ready to use, let the chicken come to room temperature before cooking.

In this instance, I use bone-in, skin-on split chicken breasts. I like to use spatchcocked chicken, as well, but the truth is, it’s just Alex and me and that can be a waste. I love dark meat, but usually only eat the breast because of calories, and Alex will eat a breast and thigh. We’ll have a ton of leftovers that we normally will not eat, so I found using chicken breasts to be the best option.

Chicken thighs would be absolutely wonderful with this, but because I am calorie-conscious, breasts it is in our house. Use whatever you’d prefer, and if you don’t use a whole chicken then you need to be sure to use bone-in and skin-on meat.

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Cut your hearty bread into pieces. This is another area where I differ from Ina’s recipe as she says to put the whole slices down. I find that I like to go ahead and cube the bread, it adds some more crisp ends.

I use a nice sourdough which holds up to being in the hot oven. The bottom of the bread will be dark, almost burnt, and the top part will be moist and full of chicken flavor that has dripped down in the cooking process. I’ve used softer breads before and they turned into a mushy mess. You definitely need something that can withstand the heat and moisture.

Arrange the bread on your cast iron pan and then put the chicken breasts on top. Brush the chicken with olive oil and then, because I’m using white meat, I drizzle olive oil over the bread that is not directly under the chicken. It helps it crisp up that way.

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My cast iron used to be so pretty and white. It’s a mess on the outside now, but it’s seasoned well and I just can’t part with it. I’ve had it for years.

Cook in a hot oven, 450 degrees, for around 35 minutes or so. The breasts I used are very large, so it takes some time to cook. The skin should be brown and crispy, but as always, your food thermometer is your best option. Take the chicken out when it is between 150-153 degrees. Add aluminum foil on top, and let rest for ten minutes.

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I like to make the salad in advance. Ina’s calls for arugula and currants, while I do a mixture of arugula and spinach. I never have champagne vinegar, so I use white wine vinegar. I’ve been tempted to (and have done!) add parmesan shavings to this salad. While good, the chicken is so heavily seasoned and the croutons are so rich that the cheese was unnecessary. The dressing is tangy, the arugula is spicy and fresh, so no cheese needs to be added. Occasionally I will add halved cherry tomatoes if we have in-season ones.

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I change the dressing slightly, using dijon, white wine vinegar, olive oil, honey, salt, pepper, two tablespoons minced shallot, and one tablespoon minced garlic.

I keep the greens in a bowl in the refrigerator, along with the dressing. I want the salad to be super cold when I add the croutons and the chicken. The cool salad with the hot chicken is an amazing combination.

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It is not possible to describe how good the bread is when it comes out. It is soft on one side, filled with chicken drippings and salty from the seasonings. Almost burnt at the bottom to add some texture. It is out of this world and the most divine thing you will eat all week. I promise.

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Even though it’s chicken breast, leaving the skin and bone on adds flavor. Taking it out of the oven at 150 degrees instead of 165 degrees allows it to remain juicy and tender. If you let it rest for ten minutes, it is perfectly fine to take your chicken out between 150-155 degrees. Residual heat will cook the rest.

This is an amazingly simple meal, hardly any prep goes into it. Season the chicken and cut the bread. Whisk the salad dressing together. It is one of the most comforting dishes you will ever eat, guaranteed. Alex requests it so much that it’s turned into a weekly meal and we always look forward to this day. Comfort food doesn’t mean that you have to use a slow cooker and add all the dairy products, bacon, and fat that you want. It can be simple, good ingredients that come together in ways that just produce happiness. Now that winter is on it’s way, try this as a staple comfort food menu, you’ll be putting that crockpot away in no time.

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Absolutely no leftovers with this meal.

Ina’s Version

Hannah’s version

For the chicken

  • 2-3 split whole chicken breasts, bone-in and skin-on
  • Garlic, one tbsp minced
  • Shallot, two tbsp minced
  • Olive oil
  • Sourdough bread, three slices, sliced thickly, then cubed

Liberally season the chicken and add minced garlic under the skin and set aside in the fridge for at least two hours. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Let chicken come to room temperature before cooking. Slice the bread into small squares and arrange on cast iron pan. Add chicken to the top of the bread. With a pastry brush, brush the chicken all over with olive oil. Drizzle olive oil over any bread not covered by chicken. Once chicken has reached internal temperature of 150-155 degrees, remove from oven and cover with aluminum foil. Let rest for ten minutes.

For the salad 

  • Arugula, 4 cups
  • Spinach, 2 cups

For the dressing

For your desired tastes, whisk together white wine vinegar, dijon mustard, honey, olive oil, the shallots (2 tbsp minced), and the garlic (1 tbsp minced). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Whisk until emulsified.

Add dressing to salad and toss. Add a heaping portion of the salad to a plate, along with croutons and chicken. Enjoy.

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