I read Maurice Sendak’s obituary through blurry eyes on Wednesday, thinking of my childhood hero for the first time in a while, although he’s never too far from my heart.
With little Gigi snuggled in my lap, her hair mussed from sleep, we poured over the New York Times’ tribute to Sendak. She pointed to “Where the Wild Things Are” are and murmured, “I have that book,” proud of herself, and then, in the next breath, “Can we get that one, and that one?” as she dragged her finger over images of “In the Night Kitchen” and “Outside Over There.” I thought of my second-hand copies of his lesser known illustrations found in “The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm,”
where his trademark goblins take on human form and vice versa, and replied, “Of course.”
So it was with misty-eyed melancholy that I opened the food section to be greeted by Melissa Clark’s spread-eagle chicken. And I laughed out loud, memories of old mingling with a bird which, in its normal state, is funny enough, but when spread-eagled on a bed of ramps, well, you really can’t help but laugh.
And so, with shopping list in hand, I headed back to Trader Joe’s for the second time in three days, eager to add to my South Beach Diet Phase 1 recipe repertoire. The fact that the produce guy at Trader Joe’s had never heard of ramps (Melissa’s addition of greens to her chicken) didn’t deter me. I grabbed a package of pre-sliced mushrooms, asparagus and onions, a five-pound kosher chicken and a few lemons. Into the cart they went, along with a few heads of garlic.
Much like Sendak, since going South Beach, I’ve had to call on my creativity at levels I didn’t know existed. Seriously – I had no idea how much I relied on carbs and sugars until eliminating them from my diet; my longing for oranges and grapes is stronger than I experienced when giving up beer (to go gluten-free).
I followed Melissa’s method for snapping and splaying the chicken’s legs; I’m also in agreement with her on high-heat roasting (not to mention the use of cast iron cookware
whenever possible). But because ramps weren’t available I improvised and added a head of garlic with the top cut off, hoping it would roast to perfection along with the chicken (which it did).
Once roasted to a lovely brown, I let the chicken rest while I sautéed the vegetables in the juice of the chicken – one pan cookery at its best. After a 10-minute sauté, I drained the vegetables and used the drippings as a kind of gravy (flour-free, of course). While there’s enough chicken and vegetables for two in this recipe, the gravy really is enough for only one person: the chef.
As I photographed the bird and moved it about the kitchen in its cast iron pan, I thought again and again of “Where the Wild Things” are, of Max, sent to bed without supper; of the beasts that he tames; and of the hot dinner that awaits him when he returns.
Melissa asks if we really need another recipe for roast chicken. When it’s something that warms the heart, feeds the stomach, brings smiles to a husband tired at the end of a long day, and makes a six-year old laugh as I claim to be a beast and she Max, the answer is yes.
- 1 4-5-pound roasting chicken
- 1 lemon, cut into quarters
- 1 head of garlic, top sliced off
- 4-5 spears fresh asparagus
- ½ medium onion
- 8 ounces cremini mushrooms
- Kosher salt
- Olive oil
- Start between 2 to 24 hours in advance: Remove the giblets from inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Rub 2-3 tablespoons kosher salt over the exterior of the bird. Refrigerate for 2-24 hours, uncovered, depending on your time.
- About one hour in advance: Place a 10- or 12-inch cast iron skillet in a cold oven and preheat at 500°. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator to allow it to come to room temperature before roasting.
- Place the chicken on a large cutting board, breast up. With a sharp knife, cut the skin attaching the legs to the body. Flip the chicken over and with one hand on the body, pull up on each leg until you hear it snap loose from the joint. Turn the chicken back over and stuff the cavity with the lemon quarters.
- Carefully remove the cast iron skillet from the oven. Set the chicken into the skillet, breast side up, and press the legs into the skillet; you’ll hear a sizzle. Nestle the garlic head beside the chicken, and drizzle a tablespoon or two of olive oil over the chicken and the garlic. Roast for 40-50 minutes.
- As the chicken roasts, prepare the vegetables. Keeping fairly consistent, slice the asparagus, onion and mushrooms into 1” pieces. Set aside.
- When the chicken is done, transfer to a clean cutting board along with the garlic head; cover with tin foil. Place the skillet onto the stove and stir the chicken drippings and skin around while warming over medium high heat. Add the sliced vegetables and cover, 3-5 minutes until the asparagus just starts to turn bright green. Remove the cover and cook 5-7 minutes more, stirring frequently, until the asparagus is crisp to your liking.
- Strain the vegetables, reserving the pan juices. Transfer the vegetables to a platter. Carve the chicken and arrange over the vegetables. Squeeze the cloves from the garlic and scatter over the chicken. Serve alongside the pan juices.