Skippy was having a hard day today. The lizards and quail have disappeared for the season taking with them his favorite past time apart from sleeping.
Unable to rouse him from his faceplant position in the sun on our loveseat, I decided to woo him with his second favorite snack: chicken (his first being avocado… go figure). More specifically, chicken roasted with butter and nutmeg on a bed of caramelized parsnips and carrots.
Skippy’s taste is very discerning. I have to work hard to impress him.
Inspired by Christmas songs extolling the virtues of chestnuts, I picked some up at my local Trader Joe’s. Chestnuts are soft and sweet, and can burn easily, especially over an open fire so a warm oven is far more practical. Scoring and tossing them in butter and nutmeg helps to keep them moist during roasting, in addition to adding finger-licking holiday goodness.
As my faithful readers may have noticed, nutmeg is one of my favorite spices. I find it so amazingly versatile that I’ve begun a personal quest to tell the world of its virtues. Nutmeg isn’t just for baking anymore!
1 whole chicken, neck and giblets included
1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced down the middle
1 pound parsnips, peeled and sliced down the middle
1 whole lemon, sliced in half
5-6 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 stick soft butter
nutmeg for sprinkling
1 pound fresh chestnuts, scored with a cross
1 Tbsp soft butter
sprinkle of nutmeg and salt
Convection roasting is fantastic for roasting whole chickens because the circulating hot air crisps up the skin while helping to prevent direct heat from drying out the breast meat.
So, if you have a convection oven use the convection roast setting at 350F or if not, set your oven to 375, then turn up the heat at the very end of cooking to crisp up the skin under the broiler.
Set a deep pot (fire and oven safe) over a medium heat and gently brown 3 tablespoons of butter. Sprinkle in 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg, a couple whirrs of freshly ground black pepper and a shake of salt into the butter. Frying the pepper and nutmeg helps to release their natural oils, enhancing their flavor.
When the butter is a light chestnut color (note a theme?), toss in your carrot and parsnip slices. I’ve kept the pieces large because they’ll need to stand up to quite a lot of cooking. Add a sprig or two of fresh thyme and allow them to cook gently in the butter over a low heat while you prepare the chicken.
Pat the chicken dry, then very gently loosen the skin from the breast meat using your fingers. It will tear very easily so slowly is best, then massage some softened butter into the breast for moisture and flavor.
Remove the giblets and neck from the cavity and add to the carrots and parsnips. Replace them with the lemon halves and three sprigs of thyme. Then use the rest of your soft butter to completely coat the entire chicken, which helps the skin to crisp while cooking.
Sprinkle on some salt, pepper and 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg, tuck a couple remaining thyme sprigs between the body and the legs, then tie the legs together with some butcher’s string.
Set the chicken on top of the carrots and parsnips, then slip uncovered into the oven.
Cooking time will vary depending on the weight of the chicken. For my 5 pounder it took about 1.5 hours. A good rule of thumb is that it’s done when the legs easily detach from the body, or when a meat thermometer reads at least 165F at the thickest part of the thigh. Keep an eye out for pink juices as this indicates the need for more cooking.
Put the buttered chestnuts into a roasting pan and slide into the oven with the chicken for the last 20 minutes of cooking. Serve everything together, being sure to include some of the buttery, crispy skin on every plate.
Alas, not even my best cooking effort could rouse Skippy from his sleep, although he finally abandoned the faceplant for a somewhat more positive position.
And from the little kitty dream movements he was making, I suspect he might have been dreamily stalking this little guy who lived in my garden this summer.