When I say “Shabbat Dinner” what comes to mind? For me, it always connotes roast chicken. While roasting a whole chicken can seem complicated and time consuming, I promise you’ll find that it’s not, and there are easy ways to upgrade Grandma’s recipe for today’s taste buds. My grandmother Sylvia, who I’m named for, was known to say “if you can read you can cook” and while I think there’s a bit more nuance involved than that, I do think it’s true—if you can read a recipe you can create a meal. However, we’re told not to “put stumbling blocks before the blind” so those recipes shouldn’t be chock full of unfamiliar, complicated terms and ingredients. If you’re a beginner cook, a roast chicken dinner is actually a great way to hone your skills, become more comfortable in your kitchen and really impress your friends and family.
For the gold standard of the simple roast chicken, I always turn to Ina Garten’s fool proof recipe. While her recipe calls for butter, if you keep kosher or are cooking for those who do, you can certainly substitute olive oil. This recipe doesn’t require any fancy appliances or accessories, and I can tell you from experience that if you skip the step of tying up the legs, the chicken will be no worse for the wear.
But if you’re ready to kick it up a notch, my Ginger Sesame Roast Chicken might become your new go-to Shabbat meal. And if you’re planning to celebrate the Chinese New Year in February, this recipe is a great way to meld these two cultural traditions through traditional flavors.
My first “secret” to a perfect roast chicken is this: Always buy a kosher chicken. Even if you don’t keep kosher. Even if you plan to wrap it in bacon or stuff it with lobster. I promise, it will taste better. Kosher chickens are salted before packaging, and therefore retain moisture better than traditional chickens. Because of this, they’re harder to ruin (ask my husband!) and even if you cook it a bit too long, it won’t be dry. My second “secret” is: Cook the chicken at a high heat. The skin crisps up which is a great contrasting texture to the meat and the flavor is deeper.
One last hint: If you’re making a roast chicken, why not make two? It takes the same amount of prep and time, and then you’ll have chicken ready to be used in everything from quesadillas, casserole, chicken salad, tortilla soup, chili and more!
Ginger Sesame Roast Chicken
Makes 4 servings
Being prepared makes cooking SO much easier. The French call pre-cooking organization “mis en place” and I find it makes everything run more smoothly in the kitchen. Get together all of your ingredients, tools and appliances before you even turn on the oven and then carefully read through the recipe to prep whatever it needs, measure ingredients, chop veggies, spray pans, etc., then you don’t have to do this as you go and you’ll never get to the middle of a recipe and realize that you’ve forgotten something. Work close to a sink so that you can dump scraps and used plates, etc. directly into it as you work.
This type of preparation is especially helpful when you’re cooking poultry and you’re concerned about cross-contamination. If everything is premeasured and chopped, you won’t need to worry. You’re going to be rinsing the chicken so make sure that your sink is empty and clean. Invest in an oven thermometer. Most ovens don’t read true, and this is an invaluable tool. But make sure not to run “self clean” on the oven with it in there—you won’t make that mistake twice…
1. Preheat oven to 425°F
2. Line a pan generously with paper towels. Rinse chicken, remove anything inside, transfer directly to the pan and pat dry with more paper towels.
(This is important, because if there is still water on the skin, the chicken won’t crisp up as well.)
3. Combine olive oil, sesame oil, grated ginger and minced garlic
(Use a microplane for both the garlic and ginger, or you can throw them both in a small food processor.)
4. Spread half of mixture under skin of chicken, other half on top of skin of chicken.
(To get under the skin, use the back of a spoon to separate the skin from the meat, and then the other side of the spoon to spread the ingredients.)
5. Salt and pepper well, including cavity.
6. Stuff chicken with remaining ginger, garlic, onion, half of lime and jalapeño
(Don’t worry about peeling any of this, as it’s not going to be eaten.)
7. Roast breast-side-up on cooling rack set into cookie sheet with sides for 1 hour 15 minutes. Half way through add ½ cup of water to the pan.
(You can use a roasting pan but the important thing is to keep the chicken from touching the bottom of the pan. If you don’t have a rack or cookie sheet, just place the chicken on top of a few thickly slice circles of onions.)
8. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes
Bon appetit! Let me know how it goes.