Roast chicken is one of those classics that has a place in both the restaurant and home kitchen. Many (if not most) great chefs from the Western traditions wax effusive about roast chicken. It’s a dish they see as the test of a great cook, the dish they make at home and a fitting choice for a favorite dish. It is just that for my wife and me. It’s our perfect date night at home, romantic dinner. There’s no better way to slide into the weekend on a Friday night than to share a beautifully crispy-skinned roast bird.
Many great recipes for roast chicken have the cook rubbing its skin, inside and out, with butter. That, of course, doesn’t work in the kosher kitchen. But why, I wondered, would one even want to use butter when the chicken’s own fat is so tasty? Chill the schmaltz so it’s solid, massage it into slits in the chicken’s skin, and that schmaltz will add richness to the chicken through-out. If it’s not exactly a chicken confit—and it’s not—in some ways, it acts as if it were. This dish absolutely doesn’t need a sauce, though Mayonnaise is a delicious dipping-sauce accompaniment. In fact, the earliest written records of mayonnaise are as an accompaniment to chicken. A good alternative to the lentils would be to chop a variety of root vegetables, season them up, set the bird to roast on top of them, and let the schmaltzy chicken juices permeate the veggies with flavor.
Chef Tips: If you can manage to think ahead in the course of your daily life—as dedicated to food as I may be, I rarely manage to do so—season the chicken both inside and out with salt and pepper one to two days ahead of time and refrigerate until ready to cook. This technique—pioneered by Judy Rodgers of Zuni Café—is basically a dry brine. If, like the rest of us, you do not manage to do so, know that you can still end up with a delicious chicken by salting it as close as possible to the time it goes into the oven.
- Cook Time
- Prep Time
For the chicken
- 1 whole chicken (about 3 pounds)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 shallots, halved
- 1 large carrot, roughly chopped
- 8 to 10 sprigs thyme
- 2 to 3 tablespoons Schmaltz, depending on the exact size of the bird (straight out of the refrigerator so that it is solid, not liquid)
- 1 lemon, cut in half
For the lentils
- 1 small onion
- 3 whole cloves
- 1 cup Le Puy lentils (or beluga lentils), picked over and rinsed
- 1 medium carrot, trimmed and cut into 4 pieces
- 1 rib celery, trimmed and cut into 4 pieces
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cups chicken stock
TO MAKE THE CHICKEN:
1. Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 450°F. If you haven’t pre-salted the chicken, do so now on the inside—not the outside. Stuff the cavity with the shallots, carrot, and thyme and truss the chicken. Lift up the skin from the breasts of the chicken and spoon 1 tablespoon of schmaltz onto the breasts. You may need to cut a tiny slit where the skin meets the flesh. Massage the breasts to spread the schmaltz evenly. Flip the chicken and do the same with another tablespoon of schmaltz on the other side.
2. Place the chicken on a wire rack fitted into a roasting pan, breast-side up. Squeeze about half the juice of the lemon over the chicken and season with salt and pepper. Flip the bird and do the same on the other side. Place the bird in the oven, breast-side down, and cook for 20 minutes.
3. Turn the oven temperature down to 375°F. Pull the bird from the oven and flip it so the breast side is facing up. In my experience, the best way to flip a bird in mid-cook (with juices in the pan and all) is to carefully grab the bird using tongs in one hand and a spatula in your other hand to help turn the bird (without ripping the skin). Return the bird to the oven and cook for another 40 minutes, until the skin is golden brown. An instant-read thermometer inserted into a meaty part of the leg (avoiding the bone) should register 165°F.
TO MAKE THE LENTILS:
1. About 20 minutes into the final cooking of the chicken, stud the onion with the cloves, place in a large sauce-pan, and add the lentils, carrot, celery, bay leaf, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn the heat down and simmer, uncovered, until substantially all of the water is absorbed and the lentils are tender, about 25-30 minutes.
TO FINISH AND SERVE:
Remove the chicken from the oven and transfer to a cutting board to rest for 10 minutes. When the lentils are done, remove the onion, carrot, and celery and scoop the lentils into the center of a platter. It is entirely your choice whether to cut up the chicken or serve it, magnificently, whole. Top the lentils with the chicken and let the chicken’s juices run into the lentils.