The first year after Abra was born we ate a lot of rotisseries chickens from the market’s deli. Grocery shopping with an infant in tow was a perilous, anxiety-filled experience those first few months. The windows of time between nursing and napping and crying were so brief that it never seemed like a good time to go, and it often took me most of my day to screw up the courage to actually get in the car and drive to the store. Once there, I struggled with whether I should place her in the cart in her car seat or strap her to my person in a carrier. The former meant that she filled the entire basket, causing me to pile groceries all around her such that she nested in a cocoon of canned beans, broccoli, and spaghetti. The latter amounted to me wrestling her into the carrier all by myself in the parking lot, appearing so inept that bystanders often stopped to ask, “Do you need help?,” the punch line of a bad joke (“How many people does it take to wrangle a floppy-headed infant into a carrier?”).
When we finally made it into the store there was always the threat that she would start wailing inconsolably for no good reason, or throw-up, or, when she got a little older, knock over an entire display of cookies. By the time we made it to the check-out counter I was generally so unnerved that the thought of making dinner – or doing anything else the rest of the day – was out of the question. So I slung a pre-cooked chicken into my cart, and when I got home I cooked a pot of white rice and roasted a seasonal vegetable to accompany the meal. For some reason there was always bottle barbecue sauce on the side to dress up the whole affair. This dinner tided us over many Wednesday nights and became a sort of ritual. But, as is so often the case in life, rhythms change, and those things we hold sacrosanct eventually fall by the wayside. Life became less chaotic. Going to the grocery store subsided to just-another-thing on the to-do list, the idea of cooking dinner afterward not a preposterous notion. Before I knew it months had passed without our weekly roasted chicken.
When I started this project nearly a year ago, the dish I most dreamed of making was a basic roasted chicken. Because I had hobbled along with my deli chickens for so long it had never occurred to me to actually cook my own, but it seemed like something I should have in my repertoire, the workhorse in my stable of dinner dishes. Last week I was thumbing through my copy of Ad Hoc, which has yet to fail me, and I discovered a simple recipe for roasted chicken on a bed of root vegetables. Given the sudden turn of the weather into bonafide fall it seemed like an utterly seasonal choice. The idea of roasting a whole chicken has always intimidated me, like the miniature version of a Thanksgiving turkey (“What if the white meat is dry and the dark meat is undercooked?”) The recipe, however, looked deceptively simple, so I bought a whole chicken at Keller’s, and the recipe guided me through the proper way to truss the bird, threading twine to and fro to keep the bird compact, which sat upon a bed of root vegetables in a cast-iron skillet. I used whatever vegetables were in my refrigerator, all of which happened to be local and in season: carrots, potatoes, acorn squash, onions, leeks, and bell peppers (okay, not a root vegetable, but I thought it would go well). With minimal preparation and just a little over an hour of baking time I was rewarded with a succulent chicken and flavor-packed vegetables, the result of the rendered fat and juices from the bird, a home-run for all three of us.
Although I wondered why I’d been buying rotisserie chickens all this time, I couldn’t help but serve it with a side of barbecue sauce.
This is Elizabeth’s final installment of Back to the Table. She will continue to write for Edible Santa Fe’s print magazine and can also be found at her website, elizabethgrantthomas.com. Thanks for following along on the journey!