I had big plans. I had placed an advance order for Ad Hoc At Home, the cookbook from Thomas Keller’s casual restaurant, with the intent of setting up a separate blog where I would cook through the entire book. When it arrived I was ready, I had a spreadsheet set up to plan the recipe progression based on seasonal availability of ingredients, a schedule of no more than one major recipe a week.
Then it all fell apart. The domain name I wanted — adhocathomeathome.com — was already taken , as were many of the obvious variations. Then I learned that someone had already beaten me to the punch: Cooking Ad Hoc At Home (shouldn’t it be Cooking Ad Hoc At Home At Home?) was already up and running. Check it out, show your support.
I had just begun reading the book when I received a perfect chicken from my meat CSA. I wanted a simple recipe that would show off the chicken and use some of the vegetables that had accumulated in the kitchen. I also wanted a relatively simple preparation and recalled that Whole Roasted Chicken on a Bed of Root Vegetables — one of the first recipes in the book — might fit the bill. It did and it couldn’t be easier to make.
I started with the chicken, six garlic cloves, six thyme sprigs, two leeks, four carrots (a mixture of purple and yellow), eight small potatoes, and a large parsnip. I peeled and quartered the carrots, peeled the parsnip and cut the bottom into discs and the top into quarters, and quartered the potatoes.
I should mention here that I made liberal substitutions based on what I had in the kitchen. The “8 small (golf ball sized) red-skinned potatoes” were replaced by four garnet red potatoes cut into quarters, the “3 tennis-ball-sized rutabagas” and “2 tennis-ball-sized turnips” were replaced by the parsnips. Shocking, I know, to take liberties with a Keller recipe prepared for the first time, but I figured it would put his claim of “simpler recipes” to the test.
I preheated the oven to 475° and prepared the chicken by seasoning the cavity with salt, pepper, three garlic cloves and five thyme sprigs, and then trussing it closed. If you had struggled with the written explanation of chicken trussing from The French Laundry Cookbook (as I did), the new book has d’oh!-inducing photos that make the technique obvious.
I combined the vegetables in a large bowl and added the remaining garlic and thyme. I tossed everything in a quarter cup of canola oil, then seasoned with salt and pepper. I placed the vegetables in a large dutch oven. (Keller sugests a roasting pan or cast iron skillet; I figured the pot was a good compromise.)
I rubbed two tablespoons of oil on the chicken, seasoned the outside with more salt and pepper, and placed it in the pot on top of the vegetables. I scattered four tablespoons of butter (cut into five pieces) over the chicken breast.
I placed the uncovered pot into the oven and prepared to roast it for 25 minutes. It was at this point that I realized I had forgotten an ingredient — one quartered yellow onion —so I quickly sliced and oiled one and tossed it into the pot. (A rare Frugal Gourmet moment for me. What I hated about that show was Jeff Smith’s haphazard approach to linear recipe presentation: “Oh, and don’t forget to add the ginger!”)
After 25 minutes at 475°, I lowered the oven temperature to 400° and continued to roast for another 50 minutes, until the temperature at the thigh was 160° (you do have a good digital instant-read thermometer, don’t you?).
I transferred the chicken to a carving board and let it rest for twenty minutes. During the last five minutes of resting I set the pan of vegetables over medium heat and turned them to glaze with the pan juices. I carved the chicken and plated it with the vegetables.
This is probably the best roasted chicken I have ever made: perfectly crispy skin, moist breast and thigh meat, and deep, richly flavored vegetables. I think the plate needs something green, so I’ll probably add simple green beans as a second side.
I never thought I’d hear myself describing a Thomas Keller recipe as an “easy one-pot meal,” but it lived up to the claim. There’s still a certain amount of fussiness in his descriptions — the leeks, turnips, and rutabagas have to be cut and trimmed just so — but they can be taken with a grain of salt as long as you’re comfortable with improvising. And that’s certainly the heart of these recipes: comfort.