The crisp fall breeze has arrived and with it yields the vibrant hues of Fall. These colors and flavors are different than summer and allow us to cozy up with our favorite blanket and herald in the coming of Fall. If you ask me, Autumn is far too short. In these months, I often make roast chicken. Roast chicken is simple enough and not very controversial. However, for me, it reminds me of childhood and being Pakistani in a sea of non-Pakistanis. Eating roast chicken would make me fit in. This time of year meant a new year at school, new friends, and new teachers.
I don’t know if when you were children, if kids would ask each other what they had for dinner. In my circle of friends, we did. I don’t know what the case was: early foodies or a lack of conversation topics. You would think I would want to discuss Jordan Knight of The New Kids on the Block and my stonewashed denim jacket covered with huge and gaudy pins pictured with him or those other things I obsessed about like bubble necklaces or snap bracelets.
As a child, I was on the radar about food. There were times I would feel embarrassed and tell people I had a roast chicken for dinner, I didn’t want to be different. I didn’t want to explain what chicken salan was or that we ate flatbreads with our meal or that I ate goat meat. “Oh, the horror,” I thought. I looked at other children’s chicken salad sandwiches on pumpernickel and made my mom duplicate those lunches for me.
I was the diversity in my school, I lived in a small town in Rhode Island. I can’t say that anyone was particularly mean to me, despite my bushy eyebrows and my obvious difference in culture. I can’t even convey to you how relieved I was when my mother let me get my eyebrows threaded.
I wasn’t embarrassed for long, I found the kids I went to school with thought these differences were actually cool. We would wear my shalwar kameez and play Aladdin (how Orientalist of us, I know). I could tell them what I actually had for dinner and they would love to try all the spicy and different dishes my parents would make when they came over. There was no more pretending that we ate Kraft macaroni and cheese every night for dinner.
Through all this, roast chicken, Pakistani or not (it can most certainly be made Pakistani) is a comforting dish for me. It is a reminder of a happy childhood and that although Pakistani food is something that is part of me, this roast chicken also brings out warm memories.
Autumn Roast Chicken
1- 3-4 pound free-range organic chicken
2 tablespoons of softened unsalted butter (if you are in Ontario, try Stirling Creamery butter)
2-3 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil
1 cup parsley leaves
15 sprigs of chives
2 tablespoons of thyme leaves
1 bulb of garlic, peeled
2 medium-sized onions, roughly sliced
3 lemons, 2 sliced and 1 juiced
1 cup dry white wine
plenty of kosher salt and black pepper
extra green herbs for the cavity of the chicken
Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure your chicken is clean and patted dry, season it generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Tie the legs together and tuck the wings under the body. Make the herb spread for the chicken by combining the butter, olive oil, half the garlic cloves, lemon juice, parsley, chives, thyme, salt and pepper into a food processor and pulse the ingredients into a paste.
Place the chicken into a large oven proof baking dish. Rub and massage the paste into the chicken and carefully lift up the skin and rub it under the skin. Make sure you have rubbed it in well.
Place half the lemon slices and under the skin and fill the cavity with 1 onion, the lemon slices, half of the remaining garlic, and leftover green herbs. Scatter the other onion, garlic, and herbs around the chicken in the baking dish. Pour the white wine around the chicken.
Place the chicken in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes reduce the heat to 400 degrees and bake for an additional hour. Every 15 minutes or so, baste the chicken with the wine and pan juices.
Make sure the chicken is cooked through. Serve on a nice large platter with some lemon wedges and chopped parsley. I like to throw in some potatoes and carrots about 30 minutes before the chicken is done. Allow the chicken to rest for 15-20 minutes before carving. Don’t be shy about soaking up some bread with the pan juices. Yum.
*There are thousands of roast chicken recipes out there, I’m sure there are several similar recipes out there.