"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

L’Shanna Tova (My ongoing trouble with roast chicken)

by Julie Tilsner on September 30, 2008

in Good Ideas Gone Bad, Holiday Hell, Dinner, Meat!

Out of the blue I decided to have a Rosh Hashanna dinner party. It was sort of my turn to host a dinner for my circle of friends anyway. And I get points for touching on the major Jewish holidays. “If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t celebrate any of them,” one told me. This tells me that having to endure my mediocre food is a small price to pay in exchange for observing tradition. Whew. That relieves some of the pressure.

Some, not all. But this year I was determined to make it easy for myself. This would be a simple meal: Roast chicken, salad, soup. Everyone else would bring the side dishes, deserts and libation. I made my shopping list, checked it twice, and steeled myself to keep on top of it all on a weeknight.

I found a recipe for roast chicken with pomegranate glaze and rosemary that sounded simple enough. Adapted from a Barbara Kafka favorite, this recipe promised a rich, dark brown bird with a savory gravy brightened by pomegranate seeds. Here it is:

5 to 6 stems of fresh rosemary, and 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary.
5-to-6 lb. chicken, excess fat removed, giblets reserved for stock.
2 to 3 teaspoons kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 whole cloves garlic, unpeeled
seeds from 1 pomegranate (about 1 cup)
juice from 1 large or two small pomegranates (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup chicken stock

Wash and dry bird. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds, garlic and a sprinkle of salt in the cavity. Lay chicken on top of whole rosemary stems in a heavy roasting pan. Pour 1/4 cup pomegranate juice over the chicken and scatter 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary over it. Sprinkle bird with 1 teaspoon salt. Roast for 50 minutes. If the chicken is browning too fast, reduce heat to 400 degrees and open over door for a minute to lower the temperature quickly.

Continue roasting at lower temperature. The chicken should be a gorgeous mahogany brown. Tilt chicken over pan to drain juices, then remove chicken and rosemary sprigs to platter. Spoon out fat. Place pan over medium high heat and pour in chicken stock and remaining 1/4 cup pomegranate juice. Bring this to a boil, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pan with a wooden spoon. Lower heat and simmer for one minute. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add any juices that have collected on the platter. Pour some juice over the chicken and top with the remaining pomegranate seeds. Serve rest of juices in a sauce-boat. Serves four.

Sounds pretty straightforward. Until one of many variables inherent in the weeknight dinner party occur.

Such as: guests who arrive at different times. People are busy. People get there when they can, after finishing up work, sitting in traffic, picking up kids. How do you keep a chicken warm when you planned on eating at, say, 6:30, but eating doesn’t get underway until an hour later?

How do you manage eight (eight!) starving kids who need their pasta NOW! and you realize that paper plates and cups were not on your shopping list?

How do you cope when the chicken you roasted for 50 minutes per the recipe, which has been sitting in a 200-degree oven for an hour keeping warm, is not, in fact, actually cooked through?

Are you supposed to scrape up the black bits in the bottom of the roasting pan for the sauce? And if so, why does the sauce come out tasting like burnt chicken stock with pomegranate undertones? If you pick black burnt bits from the sauce off the top of a roast chicken when nobody’s looking, does that make you a better home cook than you actually are?

My friends are very forgiving. The carrot and ginger soup from Trader Joe’s was a hit, and even I can make a pretty decent salad out of fancy greens, heirloom tomatoes, feta and toasted walnuts. The chick peas Joey made from a Nigella Lawson recipe were delicious over the cous-cous with cranberries. And the menfolk insisted the chicken, finally on the table after another 20 minutes in the oven, was tender and lip-smacking. I chose to believe them. And I had plenty of alcohol on hand to assist me.

The kids all got ice cream. The adults feasted on apple pie. All store bought. All delicious. And we all gathered around to dip apples into honey while I pontificated in the shallow end about the Jewish New Year.

My New Year’s resolutions: Take some cooking classes. Forget about roasting chickens for a while. And let other people throw the dinner parties.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

NetMom October 1, 2008 at 5:39 pm

Sweetie, I’m sorry you’ve had such trouble with roasting chickens. Mind if I give you a quick recipe that’s fairly simple and has yet to fail me? Hope you didn’t because here it comes –
Remove chicken from bag, rinse well and place into roasting pan, pretty side up. Sprinkle heartily with smoked paprika, medium with garlic, black pepper, onion powder and a trifle of salt.
I then put about half an inch of water or so into the bottom of the pan, turn the oven on to 350 F. And then proceed to walk away for two hours. After two hours I return, peek into the oven and smile. If the skin between the thighs and body appears about to fall apart – supper thin and crispy, it’s done. If not, I wander away for 30 more minutes.
Nice slow heat, done to the bone goodness without fussy bits to be done. And I always have lots of juice in the bottom which can be turned into gravy or stock later.


Seraphine October 3, 2008 at 10:22 am

“…having to endure my mediocre food is a small price to pay in exchange for observing tradition.”
when i have people over, there is always a last minute rush to reheat my so-called “delicious home-cooked meal” in the microwave. the potatoes are cold, and how do restaurants *ever* keep carrots how? i swear, i can reheat them and by the time they hit the dinner table, they are already cold.
luckily, everyone is so excited to eat and the conversational noise level is high enough, i don’t think most people notice what they are eating anyway.
the cook is her own worst critic. and guests will tell you dinner is wonderful (even if you know it isn’t perfect) if they want to get invited to dinner again. ahh tradition.


Michelle Harris Zuzik October 3, 2008 at 10:29 am

Oh my! Remind me of mine and the Ukrainian’s attempt to roast a turkey last Thanksgiving in order to celebrate his first authentic American holiday. I think this year, we will be doing Thanksgiving salmon. And yes, so easy to glam things up with a fancy salad!


"Mister J" October 4, 2008 at 2:13 am

That is why I invested in the Ronco Showtime Rotisserie. All you have to do is “Set it. . . and Forget it!” and you can fit to chickens in there or on big Roasting Bird. It makes it realy nice when the guests come and they see something smelling great and rotating on the spit. It’s better than watching TV!


paroquiademontelavar.org July 8, 2009 at 8:22 pm

The foods offered focus on the sweet, in hopes that those consuming the food will have a sweet New Year. Fruits, sweet vegetables and honey abound in Jewish dishes for Rosh Hashanah.


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