Tasty roast chicken with crunchy croutons

Kate Krader

BLOOMBERG – If there’s one thing everyone should have to show for themselves after a year of cooking at home, it’s a definitive roast chicken recipe.

So said Jesse Tyler Ferguson, the Modern Family star and newly minted cookbook author.

He and his co-author and great friend Julie Tanous spent significant time considering what roast bird they would showcase in Food Between Friends: A Cookbook which hit bookstores recently.

“We realised: At this point, everyone has a roast chicken, so we needed to figure out which we want to present to the world,” said Ferguson.

Their selection is Winner Winner Chicken Dinner, a glorious bird that’s brined in buttermilk for super-moist meat and crisp skin the colour of mahogany.

Buttermilk roasted chicken with crunchy croutons. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

It’s a recipe inspired by Tanous’s Alabama childhood and her mom’s roast chicken, made special by the addition of local condiment Dale’s Steak Seasoning, which was first bottled in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1946.

She said that as she got older, she realised that there were options that included less sodium and corn syrup and began experiments that eventually yielded what follows.

No one should have high expectations about a cookbook co-written by a TV star, so it’s a lovely surprise to see how well this book works on a lot of levels.

It’s got some of the more entertaining headnotes and directions you’ll read. (Tying up the chickens legs for roasting is “putting it under house arrest”.) And it contains authoritative, well-written recipes that run the gamut from baked chicken tenders to less expected options such as chile relleno meatloaf; grouper and grits, spiced up with a homemade version of Old Bay; and ground beef and pickle tacos inspired by beloved, now-shuttered Los Angeles spot, Malo.

It also has an unexpected eureka moment. Tanous, a recipe developer, didn’t teach Ferguson how to cook – although she was there to help him with some of the culinary world’s bigger challenges, like pie crusts. What they both learned was how to cook with someone, which is no small thing. It’s a lesson that can’t come a moment too soon, even as the world slowly opens up.

“Cooking with someone is a really intimate thing. It requires mutual respect, trust, and most important chemistry,” they wrote in the book. “It also requires a sense of humour when you’ve reached the end of a long day in the kitchen together and all you have to show for it is a wildly burned chicken.”

Which brings us back to their (not wildly burned) chicken. As the pair notes, buttermilk roasted chicken is not new: The great Samrin Nosrat, fellow TV star and author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat has a tremendous version. Tanous and Ferguson’s innovation is to set the bird on a bed of large croutons instead of a rack before cooking.

As the lemon- and-garlic-stuffed bird roasts, tangy chicken juices flow into the toasted bread. It’s hard to decide which to rip into first, the outrageous skin, or the crispy, fatty, crunchy croutons.

Both Ferguson and Tanous said the recipe helped them get through the pandemic as a go-to dish, with an uncomplicated set of ingredients, that yields leftovers. But don’t expect any crouton leftovers; they’re simply too addictive.

Tanous has tried addressing the problem by doubling the amount of baguette you use, but it simply won’t fit in the roasting skillet. “Grab them fast before someone else does,”
she advised.

BUTTERMILK ROASTED CHICKEN WITH CRUNCHY CROUTONS

Ingredients:

Two cups buttermilk

Two tbsp kosher salt, plus more for seasoning

Four sprigs fresh rosemary

One whole roasting chicken

One tbsp canola or vegetable oil

One lemon, cut into four wedges

Eight garlic cloves, smashed

One baguette, cut or torn into one-inch cubes

Four tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Freshly ground black pepper

Steps:

Combine the buttermilk, two tablespoons of salt and one spring of rosemary in a gallon-size zippered plastic bag and shake to distribute the salt.

Add the chicken, seal the bag, and gently shake and massage to fully coat the chicken. Marinate breast side down in the refrigerator for at least six hours or overnight. About one hour before roasting, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let it come to
room temperature. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Pour the oil into a large cast-iron skillet and heat in the oven for 10 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the buttermilk, letting as much marinade as possible drip off; discard the bag and marinade.

Lightly pat the chicken dry with paper towels.

Stuff the cavity with the lemon wedges, four garlic cloves, and one sprig of rosemary. Tie the chicken legs together at the tips with twine. Carefully spread the bread cubes in the hot skillet in a single layer, turning to coat with the oil. Top with the remaining two sprigs of rosemary and nestle the remaining four garlic cloves among the cubes.

Set the chicken on the bread cubes and brush all over with the melted butter, including the sides and crevices.

Generously season the chicken with salt and pepper, and tuck the wing tips under the body.

Roast the chicken for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and continue roasting for an additional 40 to 60 minutes, tenting with foil if the skin is getting too dark, and transferring any well-browned croutons to a plate. Roast until an instant-read thermometre inserted into the breast registers 150 degrees and the thighs and legs register at least 165 degrees.

Remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest in the pan for 15 minutes.

Carve the chicken directly over the croutons and let those juices flow. Serve with the croutons.