I woke up this morning feeling no great lust for the kitchen. With Rosh Hashana said and done, I’m culinarily played out. Spatulated, spaetzled, and spoonless beyond repair.
But Shabbos does not cook itself.
So with a great sigh and heave ho, I hoisted my petard into the kitchen and made plain old roast chicken and potatoes, something I can practically make in my sleep. Best of all, everyone loves it. In fact, when the kids got wind I was making this dish, they asked me to make extra potatoes for them to nosh this afternoon, after they finish their Shabbos chores. Somehow, good plain food comes as a relief after all the fancy, creative holiday fare, some of it more and some of it less than successful.
The following dish is very loosely based on my mother’s “plain” roast chicken, but I’ve tweaked it so many times in so many ways through the years that she no longer recognizes her own dish when she comes to visit. She says my food is “too spicy” for her tastes. My sister says my mother’s cooking seems to get blander as she ages, as if the spices are too much to bear for an elderly tongue. But we do like it hot in the Epstein house.
Close Your Eyes, Heston
Anyway, here’s the recipe—don’t expect it to be exact, or quite like any other recipe you’ve ever seen. This is a grandmother-style receipt—Heston Blumenthal should close his eyes.
Varda’s Plain Old Roast Chicken and Potatoes (And Roast Garlic, Too)
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (230 Celsius). Since your oven is going to be very hot for a lengthy period of time, prepare some garlic heads to roast—these freeze well and it’s an economical use of energy and your oven. Cut the tops off of garlic heads to expose the cloves and place in individual muffin or cupcake tins. Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil over each garlic head. Cover with aluminum foil. Place in the oven (on the oven rack) alongside your roasting pan as you roast the chicken (recipe to follow), remove cupcake tins after an hour. Leave the foil on the tins for another 15 minutes or so. The garlic will be soft as butter. Wonderful spread on challoh.
Now for the chicken and potatoes:
Pour around a tablespoon of salt (eyeball it) into the bottom of a large enameled roasting pan. Open the cold water tap and let the water run into the roaster until it no longer makes a “well” in the center of the pan. Throw three or four large bay leaves in the water.Slice two large onions, throw them in. Slice off the tops of a couple of whole garlic heads to expose the cloves. Place them cut side up in the pan (never enough garlic).
Place two or three plump chickens (cleaned) upside down (backs facing up) atop the potatoes. Grind some black pepper over them, sprinkle on some dried thyme, follow with granulated garlic (don’t be a snob), and then liberally dust with sweet or hot paprika (We like hot). Bake for 30 minutes.
Take the pan out of the oven. With a straight-edged spoon (my implement of choice) turn the chickens on their sides. Grind on pepper, and sprinkle with the thyme, granulated garlic, and paprika. Bake 15 minutes.
Repeat the process, turning the chickens onto their other sides, spicing them, and baking for another 15 minutes.
Repeat once more, this time with the chickens standing right side up (breast side up). Spice and then bake for another quarter of an hour.
Meantime, return potatoes to the oven, and cook, basting frequently until the liquid in the pan is greatly reduced and syrupy, 20-40 minutes. The potatoes will be shiny and golden and absolutely delicious, having drunk up all the juices from the chicken.
Cut the chickens into eight incredibly juicy and flavorful pieces, each and serve. Serves 12. Can be halved, doubled, quadrupled, whatever. Trust me. I have 12 children.