SUFFERING & ROAST CHICKEN

My worldview is shaped by suffering — some of it in my own sliver of experience, most of it not. With a day job in the field of international politics, I’m constantly assaulted by the realities of war, poverty, and scarcity. These days I instinctively read the frivolous sections of the New York Times — T Magazine, Fashion & Style, Dining & Wine, Home & Gardens, even Real Estate — before having to deal with Politics, which brings no aesthetic pleasure.

In responding to suffering, there’s a fine line between escapism, which I occasionally indulge, and coping, which this recipe for Roast Chicken & Bread Salad invites. Escapism is a desire to avoid an honest assessment of reality. Coping is a desire to seek protection in order to gain fortitude for the challenges ahead. What is it about this dish? I think it has something to do with the bread, which is there to soak up all the juices released by the chicken. There is a fullness here. Nothing is lost. Nothing will be lost. Make this dish for your loved ones. Make it for your enemies, too.

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ROAST CHICKEN with BREAD SALAD
scallions, pine nuts, currants, arugula

recipe by the late Judy Rodgers of Zuni Cafe, San Francisco

for 2-4 servings, slightly adapted:
1 medium chicken, the best you can find
tender sprigs of fresh thyme, rosemary, and sage
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

for the bread salad:
8 ounces of an open-crumbed, peasant-style bread (not sourdough)
1/4 cup of mild olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp. Champagne or white wine vinegar
kosher salt and freshly crackled black pepper
1 tbsp. dried currants*
(*rehydrated in 1 tbsp warm water + 1 tsp. red wine vinegar)
2 tbsp. pine nuts, toasted
2-3 garlic cloves, slivered
1/4 cup slivered scallions (mostly white but include green)
2 tbsp. chicken stock
a handful of arugula, curly endive, or mustard greens

Thoroughly pat the chicken so that it’s very dry inside and out. Slide herbs under the skin of each breast and thigh. Season the chicken liberally with salt and pepper (about 3/4 tsp. salt per pound of chicken). Cover loosely and refrigerate for at least a day if possible (if not, it’s okay too — it’ll still be delicious).

Prepare the bread salad by heating the broiler. Remove the bread crusts and reserve for some other use. Tear the bread into large chunks (about 4 cups in all), brush them with olive oil, and briefly broil them to get some color on all sides. Toss them with the olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 475. Pat the chicken dry again and place it breast-side up in a shallow roasting pan just barely larger than the chicken. Place the pan in the center of the oven. If it’s not sizzling within 20 minutes, raise the temperature until it does (I had it set at 500). The skin should blister but not char. Turn it over after 30 minutes. The chicken should roast for about 45 minutes to an hour.

While the chicken is roasting, finishing the bread salad by toasting the pine nuts, rehydrating the currants, and sauteing the garlic and scallions with a bit of olive oil on medium-low heat (don’t let them color). Add all of these plus the chicken stock to the bread mixture. Taste it and adjust the seasoning if it is bland. Place the salad in the oven for the chicken’s final 5-10 minutes of roasting.

Remove the chicken and salad from the oven. Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set it on a plate. Carefully discard clear fat but not the lean drippings. Slash the skin between the chicken thighs and breast and drain the juice into the drippings. Pour these drippings into the bread salad, which should include moist, steamy bread as well as dry, crispy bits. Let the chicken rest in a warm spot (eg. stovetop) and the meat will become uniformly succulent. Spread the bread salad on a warmed serving platter. Cut the chicken into pieces and nestle them in the salad along with several arugula leaves.

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