Ravenous Fig

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Roast Chicken with Olive/Bread Panzanella

Wintry

Vance and I stole away to the mountains for a few days, to relax and recharge for the upcoming end-of-year sprint and have a little Thanksgiving vacation. (Maybe it's a staycation now that we're NC residents?) Having never visited the Biltmore during the holidays, we made a nighttime pilgrimage there on Wednesday, followed by the most unbelievable meal at Table in downtown Asheville. A bowl of piping hot local mushrooms over brie started off a meal of Hickory Nut Gap pork chop and sunchoke three ways. A sip of Vance's apple sidecar cocktail might have stolen the show, though; and for someone who is not a lover of strong liquors that's saying a lot.

Hard as it was to follow that meal, we decided to cook a semi-traditional dinner at home for Thanksgiving night. Having already cooked two turkeys for a fall dinner party with the team at Relevance, we opted for the smaller, humbler chicken. We caramelized shallots for mashed potatoes that didn't beg for gravy but stood up on their own; we caramelized brussels sprouts with parmesan to have something green on the plate; and we washed it all down with a bottle of wine we found in the secret stash under the kitchen island.

Thanksgiving plate

Continuing with this year's theme of Anything-Other-Than-Stuffing-To-Stand-In-For-The-Stuffing (it was savory bread pudding at Eat Relevance), we also crisped some bread and olives up in the pan juices to make a crispy, salty, crouton-y panzanella.

During our Black Friday wandering through downtown Asheville, I finally picked up a copy of Andrea Reusing's Cooking in The Moment. I only wish I had picked it up sooner, as it didn't take more than five minutes with the book to have me informing Vance that we'd be cooking our way through it for the next 12 months. I tend to read things backwards anyway (the best recipes are almost always in the back of the magazine), so starting most of the way through this seasonal book shouldn't throw me off too much.

Brined Roast Chicken with Olive Bread Panzanella

As soon as I saw this recipe in this month's Food and Wine I knew we had to make it. A half recipe was a perfect stand-in for both turkey and stuffing for a Thanksgiving dinner for two, but it'd be excellent any time of the year for a dressed-up Sunday dinner for six.

Ingredients

  • 3 quarts plus 3 cups tepid water (15 cups)
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 3 heads of garlic, halved crosswise
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
  • 2 lemons, thinly sliced
  • 1 orange, thinly sliced
  • 9 rosemary sprigs, plus 2 teaspoons chopped rosemary
  • Two 3 1/2-pound organic (preferably local) chickens
  • 1 pound olive bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (we substituted a 1 pound rosemary and sea salt loaf and 1/4 cup kalamata olives)
  • 2 tablespoons bacon fat or melted butter

Preparation

In a very large pot, combine the water, wine, garlic, salt, 2 tablespoons of pepper, lemons, orange and 3 rosemary sprigs. Stir to dissolve the salt. Put the chickens in the brine, breast sides down. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Preheat the oven to 425°. Remove the chickens from the brine and pat dry. Put the chickens in a roasting pan, breast sides up. Stuff the remaining 6 rosemary sprigs in the cavities and tie the legs together. Season lightly with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the chopped rosemary. Roast for 30 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of water to the pan and roast at 375° for 1 hour and 15 minutes longer, rotating the pan, until the juices run clear. Lift the chickens and tilt them to let the cavity juices run into the pan. Transfer the chickens to a carving board and keep warm. Increase the oven temperature to 425°. Add the olive bread cubes and the bacon fat to the pan and toss well. Spread the bread in an even layer and bake in the upper third of the oven for about 20 minutes, until crisp on top and moist underneath. Carve the chickens and serve with the olive bread panzanella.
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