What's better than a roast chicken party? Not much. I've even converted vegetarians (seriously, bacon is not the only gateway meat).
As the nights began to turn cool these past few weeks, the season of oven use commenced and I celebrated by cranking that puppy and roasting a chicken--baking bread comes later when it's frosty outside. I love roasting a great organic chicken (preferably a formerly happy chicken from a local farm) and I've got the simplest technique that always makes a perfect, moist chicken and can be tweaked and varied ad nauseam (e.g., the pepper jelly glaze).
EARLY AUTUMN ROAST CHICKEN
~serves 4, with a little left over for lunch the next day
One 4 to 4 1/2 lb chicken Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 6 thyme sprigs 4 rosemary sprigs 1 lb (around 8 medium or 10 small) heirloom tomatoes 4 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed, and cut in half 4 celery stalks, chopped 3 small yellow onions, trimed, leaving root end intact, and cut into quarters 8 small (thumb-size) fingerling potatoes 1 bunch basil 1 lemon, halved 1/3 cup canola oil (less strong tasting, though olive is fine too) 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Glaze 1/2 cup hot pepper jelly 1 tablespoon butter 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard 2 teaspoons Kecap Manis (Indonesian soy sauce, texture like molasses) dash ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 450°F. Five minutes after turning on the oven, put a cast-iron or other heavy ovenproof skillet on a rack set low in the oven. Rub the chicken with the olive oil, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and tear off a few rosemary leaves and stick under the skin if you'd like.
Combine all the vegetables and herb sprigs except the tomatoes in a large bowl. Toss with 1/4 cup of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread the vegetables in a large cast-iron skillet or a roasting pan.
Rub the remaining oil over the chicken. Season generously with salt and pepper. Cut lemon in half and stick in cavity. Stick herb sprigs in along with it.
Make a nest in the center of the vegetables and nestle the chicken in it.
Put the chicken in the oven and roast for 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the jelly, butter, mustard, kecap manis and pepper in a saucepan and heat until hot and well blended. Mix the tomatoes with a little oil.
Smear chicken with 3/4 of the glaze, scatter the tomatoes and basil around the bird, then roast for an additional 25 minutes, or until the temperature registers 160 F in the meatiest portions of the bird--the thighs, and under the breast where the thigh meets the breast--and the juices run clear. If necessary, return the bird to the oven for more roasting; check it every 5 minutes. Brush with the remaining glaze a few minutes before it's done.
Transfer the chicken to a carving board and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
If you'd like the veggies piping hot, before serving, set the pan of vegetables over medium heat and reheat the vegetables, turning them and glazing them with the pan juices.
Cut the chicken into serving pieces, arrange over the vegetables and serve.
Note: Use the extras in a sandwich with some extra hot pepper jelly smeared on good bread (like our favorite, Roberta's bread in Brooklyn--you can buy the jelly and the bread at our Sunday market at 261 Moore St. in Bushwick, Brooklyn).