Everyday Meal: Roast Chicken, Asparagus and Salad
- Servings: 2.
I make this meal at least once every other week, changing the vegetable if the asparagus doesn't look good or is costing $6.00 a pound as it does in January. I've written this menu and recipes in this way to show those (and you know who you are) who argue they can't make what they call a "decent" meal in an hour, especially during the week when a busy day leaves them tapped out by the time they get home.
I'd also put this in the category of so-much-better-than-take-out. It's easy, fast and doesn't require fancy tools or technique.
- 1 half chicken. Every butcher shop and most grocery stores sell these. My favorite brands are Murray’s or Bell & Evans. I buy several at a time and keep them in the freezer, taking one out the night before I’m going to need it, moving it to the refrigerator to defrost. If a half chicken isn't to your liking, meaning one person will have dark meat and the other white, you can just buy the chicken pieces you like. But cook white meat on the bone for 45 minutes and dark meat for 50 to 55 minutes.
- 1 or 2 bunches of asparagus
- 1 package of hearts of romaine lettuce (I often buy this instead of a whole head because you only have to remove the out leaves and bottom core, saving you the step of washing the lettuce)
- Other salad ingredients: red onion or scallions, tomatoes, button mushrooms, anything else you have or like
- Red wine vinegar
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 piece of cheese: goat, manchego, stilton, or anything else you have or like
Equipment and Tools
- Small roasting pan or large (i.e., 12”) fry pan that can go in the oven for chicken
- Large rimmed cookie sheet for asparagus
- Salad spinner
- Paper towels
From Walking In the Door to Sitting Down for Dinner: One Hour
- Arrive home. Turn on the oven to 350º F.
- Take all your ingredients out of the refrigerator or your grocery bag.
- Rinse the chicken under cool water and pat completely dry with a paper towel (if you put anything damp into the oven, it will steam and you usually don’t want that to happen). Cut the half-chicken into 2 parts so that you have one piece of dark meat (the leg and thigh) and the breast.
- Leave on the skin and don’t apply any oil or butter; if you want to eat it skinless that’s fine but remove the skin after cooking – the chicken will taste far better and won’t dry out if it’s cooked with the skin. Put the chicken pieces in a small roasting pan and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Wash your hands and your cutting board with soapy water (this is chicken, remember). When the oven is at 350º, put the chicken in the oven and set the timer for 45 minutes.
- At 45 minutes you’re going to remove the breast portion and put the leg/thigh back in to cook another 10 minutes for a total of 55 minutes – the dark meat takes just a bit longer to cook.
- Wash the asparagus, immersing the tips, which are sometimes sandy, completely in water. Trim off the coarse ends to leave only tender stalks. If the stalk still seems coarse, remove those parts with a vegetable peeler. Pat dry with a paper towel (again, you’re roasting it, not steaming it). Spread in a single layer in a shallow baking pan or a cookie sheet that has a rim. Drizzle with olive oil (one to two tablespoon – enough to just slightly glisten the stalks), lightly salt and pepper; and shake the pan or use your hands to get all the spears lightly covered in the salty oil.
- Put into the oven, on the rack below your chicken when the chicken is about half done. Periodically open the oven and shake the pan. Your goal is to not only cook the asparagus through but also caramelize (browning) it a bit. This will take about 30 minutes, depending on how thick or thin the spears are. It's okay if the asparagus is done before the chicken because it's fine, maybe even tastier, if it's eaten at room temperature.
- While the chicken and asparagus are cooking, take the hearts of romaine lettuce, cut off the base and peel off any brown outer leaves and either cut or tear them into bite-sized pieces. If you’ve instead bought pre-cut and pre-washed salad, transfer to your salad bowl, giving it a lookover to make sure there are no brown or otherwise errant pieces. Add to your salad bowl any other items you love: cherry tomatoes, slices of red pepper, sliced scallions, sliced mushrooms or onions. You choose. Toss together.
- Make vinaigrette: In a small bowl combine a tablespoon of red wine vinegar, a teaspoon or forkful of Dijon mustard (good mustard, not the yellow stuff which should be saved for hot dogs), a pinch of salt and some grinds of black pepper. Stir with a whisk or fork. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Whisk some more to emulsify. If this isn’t as much dressing as you’d like for your bowl of salad, just add more of each ingredient but keep the ratio of vinegar to oil. Pour over salad and toss just before serving.
When everything is done, plate the chicken and asparagus in the kitchen. Bring the salad bowl with plates to the table, along with the piece of cheese on the side.
From first opening your refrigerator and turning on the oven, this will take you no more than one hour. I promise.
Tip: When cooking on-the-bone poultry, place the pan in the oven so that the leg portion is at the rear, where the oven is always slightly hotter, and the breast in the front. This helps when cooking a half chicken and also when you roast a whole bird (turkey, chicken, duck) because dark meat takes more heat and more time to cook than white meat.