This past weekend Mark and I traded the sunshine and warm weather for the cold and snow of Missouri. We headed to the middle for a long overdue visit with my parents as well as with some old friends who made the trek from Virginia. I meant to cook a lovely meal for my parents, but instead, Mark and I ended up just revisiting restaurants that I loved growing up and miss oh so much out in California. Upon our arrival in Saint Louis, we stopped at White Castle, for a sack packed with belly-bombers (which for some reason they are now called "slyders." I'm having no part of it). I had wanted to give a restaurant called Niche a try, as it recently got nominated for a James Beard award. It serves one of my favorite types of food - organic, local, seasonal. But alas, the timing didn't exactly work out. Oh well, next visit. That night down in Cape my father, Mark and myself headed to a little hole in the wall downtown called Broussard's where we feasted on steamed crawfish, Mark had gumbo and a fried oyster po boy and I had a plate of jambalya, washed down with a couple bottles of beer. The next day, I dragged Mark to Steak n' Shake for their famous steak burgers, very thin with crisp edges piled onto a toasted bun. For dinner that night, we braved the snow and slowly and cautiously made our way to my favorite pizza place, Pagliai's which apparently recently underwent a renovation, part of which included getting rid of their juke box. So sad. But at least they still had their vintage two player Miss Pac Man. Dinner the next night was with our friends from Virginia, Steve and Tod, at the N'Orleans, a old, southern-style steak house, where I happened to work while in college. Mark and I shared oysters casino (with "Ricardo sauce"! Isn't that so 50's?), and a Caesar salad heavily slicked with eggy Caesar dressing. I had the chateaubriand, one of their specialties, flamed and carved right at the table. The next morning, breakfast was at Cracker Barrel, one of only a few sit-down chain restaurants that I have an inexplicable fondness for. The weather was perfect for a plate of fried eggs, biscuits with sawmill gravy and sausage patties, and golden, crisp hash-browns. It was a weekend packed with heavy food.
Once we returned to Los Angeles, I was in the need for something a bit lighter. I was sort of craving chicken. This recipe is one of my fav ways of making chicken. It's totally simple but not boring, good for a weeknight meal. Sometimes I make a couple extra to have a snacks, cold from the refrigerator, slathered with dijon mustard or maybe some mayonnaise.
2 organic chicken breasts, bone in and skin on, each weighing about 1 pound
2 fat cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped (any fresh herb would work, really)
1 lemon, thinly sliced
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil to drizzle
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
To make the paste, combine the minced garlic, salt and chopped thyme in a small mound on your cutting board.
With the side of a knife, smash everything together until a wet paste is formed. The salt will help pulverize the garlic and thyme.
Next, loosen the skin from the chicken breasts. Divide the paste between the two breasts, slathering it around under the skin, slip in two slices of lemon, then pull the skin back over.
Place the breasts on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with a little olive oil and then season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast the chicken for about 25 minutes. Turn the oven off and let chicken rest inside for another 5 minutes.
Remove the chicken from oven and either serve or remove the skin and take off the bone and shred or slice into bite sized chunks to be used in a salad, sandwich or whatever. I like the toss the shredded pieces with any juices left over on the baking sheet, to sop up every last bit of flavor. I just hate to waste it.
Even if you don't eat the skin, roasting the chicken breasts on the bone and with the skin on results in the most juicy, succulent flesh you can imagine. By slathering the garlic-herb paste under the skin, it allows the flavors to really permeate the chicken, rather than just season the skin. The lemon slices imbue it with a fresh brightness that contrasts well with the piquancy of the garlic. Thyme is probably my favorite herb. It's so distinct, but not soooo specific that it can't be used prefectly in a variety of dishes or cuisines. Of course you could, if you chose, switch the thyme out with any fresh herb that you fancy or happen to have on hand.
This is a great way to make chicken to use in salads (both mayonnaise based chicken salad or leafy green salad), to slice and pile on sandwiches or to tuck into a quesadilla, pita or flatbread, even just snacking. I realize that this isn't really a sexy or indulgent recipe, but it's a great basic thing to know and it's incredibly versatile.
Serves 2 to 4, depending on how the chicken is used