Reba Cooks #3
the new-new normal is coming plus basic but tasty: cast iron roasted chicken with meyer lemons and thyme
I won’t harp on the fact that this week and next are the “last year was the last _____” during this pandemic, but it’s hard to let that anniversary slip by without thinking about it as you slip on one of your twelve or so masks you now have floating in your purse at all times— n95, cloth, surgical mask, doubled up, dealer’s choice! — a quick pump of the now permanent bottle of hand sanitizer permanently sitting in your car’s cupholder, and head into the grocery store. What sounded dystopian a year ago is now just…boring and normal.
I’m trying to not get complacent and lax in my personal “covid protocols,” but I’m lying if I say I don’t see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel with every Andy Slavitt tweet. While I’m still certain I will be one of the last to get jabbed, those even in my currently tiny social circle are popping up on social media with their stickers and their selfies. The “new, new normal” is finally coming.
My first peek into what that might look like happened last weekend when my college roommate and I rented an AirBnB and spent the weekend in Cincinnati just a block or so away from Findlay Market. This was the first night in a year that I had spent away from my family (how’s that for an anniversary), and the only plans we had were to eat cheese, drink wine, and watch Barb & Star. A drastic change from the last time I wrote here, there was no snow in sight but instead we were gifted (truly, if you live in the midwest you know this is a gift) with one of those balmy midwestern February days where you seek out a chair in a sunny patch like a house cat, and sit there until the shadows force you to move. Fingers crossed for a weird sunburn if you’re lucky.
We went no farther than the market. One block was all we had in us. Before, I would have done thorough restaurant research, made reservations, and we would have ubered all over town going to the conservatory or a museum. In the new-new normal? We got excellent reuben bagel breakfast sandwiches to go, donned n95 masks while we walked laps around the market looking at house plants and food, bought wine and cheese to go, and at one point grabbed a table in the sun, sipping cold beers and listening to a guitarist play on the plaza. After a long year, it was just what we needed.
However- due to my lazying about in the February sun over the weekend eating half my weight in cheese, my weekly grocery routine was interrupted and so my dinner plans recently have varied from “crap I thawed a chicken what can I make with it” to a couple of chilly patio meals at restaurants. 36 degrees is normal for outdoor dining, right?
The chicken in question is something easy and tasty that felt like the perfect candidate to share here. Everyone needs an easy roast chicken recipe and while I am not the first or the last to suggest this method, part of this move over to substack and out of Blogger Land included documenting the easy, simple, meals that are just good to have in your back pocket and make on a Wednesday. This recipe utilizes the thawed chicken mentioned earlier, a cast iron pan, Meyer lemons I compulsively pick up every time I’m at the store, and the clamshell of borderline too dry thyme I had leftover in my fridge. I ended up making a salad to go with this, and yes it’s basic and no it’s not adventurous but it’s just hard to beat a roast chicken, salad and some crusty bread. Go forth: be basic.
Spatchcocked Cast Iron Roast Chicken with Meyer Lemons and Thyme
Note: You will need a 12 inch cast iron skillet for this recipe
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp minced fresh thyme
1 garlic clove, minced
Zest of approx half one meyer lemon
One meyer lemon, sliced.
3-4 lb whole chicken
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
Adjust oven rack to lowest position. Place 12 inch cast iron skillet on the rack and preheat oven to 500F. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, thyme, garlic, and lemon zest. Set aside.
Place whole chicken on cutting board, breast side down. Using kitchen shears, cut through the bones on either side of the backbone and discard (save for stock!). Flip chicken over and press firmly on the chest like you are doing CPR on the poor lifeless bird to flatten. Pat dry with paper towels and season with 1 Tbsp vegetable oil and season all over with 2 tsp salt, and 1 tsp pepper.
When oven hits 500 degrees, carefully place chicken breast side DOWN in hot skillet. Sprinkle lemon slices around the bird on the pan. Reduce oven temperature to 450 degrees and roast for 30 min until well browned. Things will be smelling good.
After 30 minutes, use potholders and remove skillet from oven (keep a towel draped over the handle there, I’ve grabbed a screaming hot cast iron skillet more than once forgetting it was once IN the oven). Using tongs, carefully flip the bird over so the breast side is up. Admire the browning.
Brush the chicken with the reserved oil/lemon zest/thyme mixture and place back in oven. Continue to roast for another 10-15 minutes or until breast registers 160 degrees and thighs are 175. Transfer bird to cutting board allow to rest for 15 minutes. Slice and serve!
Bonus recipe: Vinaigrette!
If you’re feeling wild while the chicken rests, whip up a little salad dressing:
2 tbsp finely chopped shallot
1 tsp fresh thyme
2 Tbsp meyer lemon juice
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp dijon (I love the Aioli Garlic Mustard from Trader Joes in salad dressings, but any type will do!)
Combine in a jar with a lid. Shake. Dress salad greens, season with salt and pepper, and shave parm over the top.
Serve alongside roasted chicken and crusty bread. ::chefs kiss emoji::