Thursday, February 24, 2011

Roast Chicken with Green Olives, Fennel Seeds, and Thyme

Is there anything more satisfying than roasting a whole chicken in the oven on a cold, lazy Sunday? Or any day for that matter? If I were hard-pressed to name my favorite thing to cook, it would have to be roast chicken. There's something incredibly homey and delicious (not just in the literal sense) about cooking a good bird (one that's led a happy life) and carving it up to share amongst friends and family. And on the other hand, if you happen to be cooking for one or two, a chicken is the best possible thing you can make. There is a plethora of divine dishes waiting to be whipped up out of the leftovers, PLUS the bones of the bird make for an excellent homemade chicken broth. Talk about nose-to-tail eating at it's finest.

This is the whole concept behind Mindy Fox's book, "A Bird in the Oven and Then Some," introduced to me by the lovely Julia Bainbridge of Bon Appetit. The genius cookbook is filled with 20 different ways to roast a chicken plus side dishes and recipes for incorporating leftovers. This chicken--the Roast Chicken with Green Olives, Fennel Seeds, and Thyme--was the first one I made out of the book, and I must say it was the best bird I've ever roasted. It's healthy, doesn't use a lick of butter, and comes out of the oven with a crisp, super flavorful skin that gives way to truly perfect, juicy meat. xo

Roast Chicken with Green Olives, Fennel Seeds, and Thyme
From A Bird in the Oven and Then Some, by Mindy Fox
1 (3-4 lb) whole chicken
1 cup green olives, preferably Lucques or Cerignola (about 10), pitted and finely chopped (I used Cerignola)
2 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
2 lemons
1 3/4 teaspoons fennel seeds
1/2 tablespoon flakey coarse sea salt (I used Maldon) 

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Pull of excess fat around the cavities of the chicken and discard, then rinse the chicken and pat dry very well, inside and out. From the edge of the cavity, slip a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, then use your fingers to gently but thoroughly loosen the skin from the meat of the breasts and thighs.

Mound the olives, thyme, and garlic on your cutting board and chop them up together, then zest the lemons over the olive mixture, holding the zester close to the mixture so that you capture the flavorful oil that sprays from the lemons as you zest. Chop the mixture together a little more, then mix in the fennel seeds.

Working with about 1 tablespoon of the olive mixture at a time, gently push the olive mixture into the pockets you created between the chicken skin and meat, being careful not to tear the skin. Once you have put the mixture into the pockets, you can gently rub your hand over the outside of the skin to smooth out the mixture and push it farther down between the skin and meat where you may not be able to reach with your hand.

Put the chicken into a baking dish or skillet a bit larger than the chicken and season with the salt. Roast in the oven, turning the pan once, halfway through, until the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced with a fork, about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. I used a 3 lb bird, so 1 hour was perfect for me. Remove the pan from the oven and let the chicken rest in the pan for 15 minutes, then baste with the juices.

Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes, then carve and serve with the pan juices and extra salt for sprinkling.