Fall Approaches: Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables

20 Sep

I’ve lately found myself cooking recipes from How to Cook Everything a lot less. It’s not that I don’t still love the cookbook; it’s still an essential text for me, the book I recommend to everyone that wants to learn a thing or two about cooking. But HTCE is, I’m starting to think, a little self-defeating. The more recipes you make from it, the less you need it. I’ve made so many of Mark Bittman’s recipes that (and I think Bittman himself would love this) I’m cooking more and more without recipes. I’ve gained the essential tools and techniques I need, and now I can fly on my own, like a little baby bird leaving the nest. Aw.

ad hoc chicken1

That’s how I found myself staring down Thomas Keller’s recipe for roast chicken from the Ad Hoc At Home cookbook, his collection of homestyle, unfussy recipes. It’s funny how complicated and fussy these simple recipes can be. This was the first recipe I road tested from the book, even though I’ve had it since June. Part of it is the pictures. If How to Cook Everything says to the reader “hey, don’t worry about it, no matter what you do, this roast chicken is going to be delicious,” then Ad Hoc At Home say “fuck you, asshole, you can’t make a chicken that looks as pretty as this photograph. You better truss that chicken, and if your potatoes are any larger than a golf ball, you’re going to be completely fucked. You should probably just order in.” Okay, maybe I’m projecting, but you get the idea: Keller’s recipes are intimidating.

That said, his recipe for roast chicken is infinitely better than Bittman’s. Now, I’m glad I made Bittman’s a number of times. It was good practice. But Keller’s method is ingenious, roasting the chicken over root vegetables (leeks, onions, garlic, potatoes, turnips and rutabagas, though I couldn’t find rutabagas so I upped the potatoes) and adding plenty of thyme to flavor both the chicken (via its cavity) and the veggies. You truss the chicken, which I fully intended to, but then I forgot to buy twine, and in the end it was just fine. There’s not much else to it–high heat, then lower heat, and some butter on the chicken for good measure. It wasn’t as pretty as the photo in the book, but I think it looked damn good. So in the roast chicken battle, Keller wins. In the accessibility, usefulness, approachability, and versatility rounds, though, I have to stick with my man Bittman.

ad hoc chicken2

On the side was another Ad Hoc At Home recipe for romano beans with mint. You blanche and shock them, then pan fry some shallots, deglaze with stock, and whisk in some butter, then toss the beans in this sauce with the mint. It’s good–no small thanks to the butter.

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