Every Sunday I slow-roast a chicken. I truss the bird, dress it with herbs, olive oil and a generous sprinkling of salt and set it on a bed of vegetables – whichever I happen to have on hand. It’s a happy ritual, and one that helps to feed us all week long, and, later, when I toss the chicken’s frame into the my favorite slowcooker, that same meal gives us enough bone broth to last an entire week.
Sundays are my busy day. It begins first with a big breakfast – sourdough pancakes, stewed strawberries, homemade yogurt, and is quickly followed by a trip to our farmers market. Later in the day, I prepare our foods for the week, adding more sweet tea to our continuous brew kombucha, setting up another batch of milk kefir and water kefir, feeding the sourdough starter. I plan our meals for the week. And then exhaustion sets in. It’s this time, that I line a clay baker with vegetables, truss a chicken, and begin an impossibly simple, no-fuss dinner. By the time my husband returns from his work with the farmers market, dinner is ready and we can enjoy the evening together.
In the last several weeks, I lean heavily on a combination of the herb savory, coupled with garlic, potatoes, preserved lemons and ample olive oil. I like the pairing of chicken, potatoes and preserved lemon, having first tasted them in concert while doing volunteer work in Morocco one summer nearly 10 years ago. It’s there also that I first began experimenting with fermentation, learning how to preserve lemons and how to cure olives.
Each winter when Meyer lemons first come into season, I buy one or two cases depending on the allowances in our budget, and preserve them the old-fashioned way: with salt and time. Fermentation softens the lemons’ natural tartness and also removes the bitterness from the lemon rind. Within a few weeks to a month or so, the entire lemon ferments and becomes edible. It’s a distinct salty sour flavor that pairs nicely with both chicken and fish. You can learn how to preserve lemons with this tutorial.
Popular in French cooking, savory tastes of rosemary and of thyme. While it’s difficult to find fresh outside of specialty shops and farmers markets, it grows readily in small pots in a window, or on a patio. (You can buy seeds online). If you have no fresh savory, substitute thyme
Why I favor slow roasting (and lots of salt)
Whenever I write about roasting chickens or turkeys, I receive an inevitable onslaught of comments and emails that tell me I cook my birds far too long, and that any bird should be roasted at a very high temperature for only 45 minutes. I disagree, and, instead, I favor slow-roasting. In our home, I emphasize purchasing locally produced, pasture-raised poultry. Having enjoyed plenty of exercise, and having reached the time for slaughter at a much later age than conventionally raised birds, pasture-raised poultry tends toward toughness. These birds are much more flavorful than their industrially raised cousins, and slow-roasting tempers their natural toughness, producing remarkably tender and succulent results. Relatively low temperatures and extended cooking allows the bird to not only develop a distinct richness of flavor, but also it prevents the bird from staying tough and, instead, the meat loosens, and makes the birds easy to carve.
I also salt my birds very generously. Salting the bird’s breast meat helps to draw moisture and fat from the skin, ensuring that it browns and crisps to perfection. If the flavor imparted by the salt becomes to strong for your liking, simply brush off any extra after the chicken has roasted and the skin has crisped.
- 1 whole chicken, about 4 pounds
- 1 1/2 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
- 6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
- 3 preserved lemons (get the recipe), chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh savory
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon finely ground unrefined sea salt (I buy this kind)
- Heat the oven to 275 F.
- Rinse the chicken, inside and out, in a gentle stream of water. Pat it dry, then truss it with 100% cotton cooking twine (available here). Place the trussed chicken in a baking dish, and arrange the potatoes, garlic and lemons around the chicken.
- Brush the chicken with olive oil, and sprinkle it generously with sea salt and chopped savory. Drizzle any remaining olive oil over the potatoes, lemon and garlic.
- Roast, uncovered, at 275 F for 2 hours, increase the oven temperature to 375 F and continue roasting a further 45 minutes or until the skin of the chicken crisps and turns brown, and its juices run clear. Allow the chicken to rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
If you cannot find savory, substitute fresh thyme.