Maybe you’ve already heard this, but, um, the economy is broken.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to launch into a politics and blame and shame and fiscal responsibility and healthcare reform and offshore tax shelters. I’ll leave that stuff to NPR and my mother. Suffice it to say that all of the aforementioned events have caused us here at Blue Jean Gourmet to be a little more thoughtful about what we spend and where we spend it. And as much as I admit to being a sucker for my expensive food habits (see: imported cheese, peach lambic, olives!), tinkering with the Blue Jean Kitchen budget has actually been a great boost to my culinary creativity. What is it they say? Necessity is the mother of invention?
And so, necessarily, I learned some new skills. For instance: you’ve totally got to start buying whole chickens and cutting them up yourselves. Seriously people, as my sixth graders would say. You’re going to get SO much more bang for your buck–I bought a lovely little organic, free-range whole chicken for less than ten bucks and it fed the two of us twice! Don’t be intimidated, okay? There’s this handy little guide up at MarthaStewart.com, and it will take you through step-by step. I promise, after the first time, you’ll feel like a pro. A cleverly frugal, old-school pro.
If you can afford it, buy a few chickens at once and cut them all up together, freezing what you won’t use right away. Not only is cooking whole chicken economical, it’s also gastronomical–meat always tastes better when cooked on the bone.
This chicken recipe is super-easy to make and very satisfying. It’s one of our “nice-but-not-fussy” dinner staples, especially when we’re craving something substantive but not heavy. Pairs very nicely with roasted potatoes*, which you can cook at the same time and in the same place as the chicken itself! Or, dress it up for company via wild rice and a green vegetable–say, asparagus sure is lookin’ purty these days!–and it, too, takes well to an oven-roasting. As my good friend Coco would say, aaaaand done!
OVEN-ROASTED BALSAMIC CHICKEN
for the marinade:
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
2 T. honey
2 T. Dijon or whole-grain mustard (the yellow stuff is not going to taste good here)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced (feel free to scale back if you’re not a garlic fiend like I am)
juice of one lemon
salt & pepper
to be marinated: 1 whole chicken, cut-up (you can substitute just chicken breasts or legs)
Whisk marinade ingredients together in a large Ziploc bag (saves you bowl cleanup!) Toss in the chicken pieces, seal the bag, and use your hands to distribute the marinade. Store the chicken bag in the refrigerator, being sure to lay it flat so the chicken pieces are evenly coated by the marinade. Marinate at least one hour or up to all day.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400. Turn out the contents of the bag into a heavy-bottomed, shallow baking dish. Bake 45-55 minutes (if you are cooking boneless pieces, your cooking time will be reduced by about 10-15 minutes). Cover the pan carefully with foil if the chicken starts to brown too much. Now, some people will tell you to use a fancy meat thermometer and others will tell you to develop your cooking instincts (which you will!), but the simplest way to figure out if your chicken is done is to take the biggest piece out and cut it in the middle. You’ll know if it’s ready to come out or needs to stay back in, and this prevents you from blasting the heck out of chicken and drying it out, which is not tasty.
optional: You can make an easy pan sauce for your chicken using some chicken stock. Once you’ve removed the chicken from the pan, place it over your largest stove burner and turn the heat to low. Pour about a cup of stock into the baking pan–this is called deglazing, and it allows you to get up all of the yummy browned bits on the bottom of your baking pan. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to help you loosen the fond (nope, I’m not making that word up). Allow the sauce to thicken a bit over the stove’s heat before pouring over your plated chicken.
* ROASTED NEW POTATOES
2-3 lb. small, starchy potatoes (red, Yukon gold, new)
salt & pepper
optional: 2 T chopped fresh parsley or rosemary, OR 1 T dried parsley, rosemary, or herbs de Provence
Scrub potatoes well but don’t remove peel–dice into cubes of similar size (about 1/2 inch). Toss generously with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt & pepper (herbs, if using). Spread out on a sheet pan and bake, 20-25 minutes or until fork-tender.