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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cranberry and Sage Roasted Chicken

This is one of my favorite meals. Of course, perhaps by now you've noticed that I have a thing for gravy. Anything with gravy on it constitutes a favorite meal in my book. But this one is extra favorite. I first came up with this recipe in 2001 and have been making it regularly ever since.

I love it for many reasons. It's a cinch to make. Even the gravy is extra easy. It has a wonderful, unique flavor that is both rustic and gourmet at the same time. It's sweet; it's savory. It's the classic Thanksgiving combination of cranberry and sage, but you can have it at any time of the year! Let me show you just how easy this is to make. I kid you not, the hardest part is waiting for it to cook!

The first step is to get out a heavy cast iron Dutch oven. As far as I'm concerned, these vessels are the only way to oven roast almost everything. Prime rib and turkey may just be the only exceptions I can think of. Because they are such wonderful conductors of heat, cast iron Dutch ovens regulate heat very well so that your bird gets a gentle, even trip in the oven. The heavy lid sits firmly enough to keep the juices in, and I am convinced that when it's really going, there might even be a slight pressure increase from the steam that helps things along, too.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place the Dutch oven on the stove top on a medium-high burner. Add a splash of oil and let it heat up. When the pan is hot (a drop of water flicked in the pan will dance around immediately), place the chicken in breast side down and let it develop a nice, brown crust. Move chicken around to get all sides evenly golden. Remove from heat and set chicken breast-side up in the pan.

Cut one whole onion into slices and place in and around the chicken. Do the same with the garlic. Now mix the wine and cranberry sauce together in a jar or bowl. Pour over the top of the chicken. I usually use whole cranberry sauce, but this time, I used homemade cranberry sauce that had been put through a food mill. I like both versions for different reasons. Use either one you like. Sprinkle the top of the chicken with the ground sage, parsley, salt, and pepper. Cover and place in the oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until the juices run clear. Doesn't look like much here, does it? I promise happy changings in the oven!

At the end, remove the lid and broil for 10 minutes, or until the bird is nicely browned and beautiful. Didn't I promise happy changings!?!

Pull the bird out of the pan and set aside to rest while you prepare the gravy. Set the Dutch oven back on the stove top over medium heat. Stir to loosen up the bits and pieces in the pan. While you can strain the gravy to make it smooth, I like it with the large pieces of onion and - when I use the whole cranberry sauce - there are beautiful berries floating in there too. Grab a whisk and a mini mesh strainer with a couple of spoonfuls of cornstarch inside. Once the pan juices are bubbling gently (adjust heat as needed), gently tap the cornstarch into the gravy and whisk it in with the other hand. Be sure not to tap too much cornstarch in at once or you'll end up with lumps. Go slowly so that you don't over thicken your gravy. Remember that cornstarch has to cook to reach its full thickening power. The general rule of thumb for cornstarch is one tablespoon for each cup of liquid (it has about twice the thickening power of flour).

Remove from the heat. It's time to slice the chicken! I like to cut the breast meat all off of the bone in one piece and then cut vertical slices so that everyone gets a nice combination of the meat and flavorful skin. No need for fighting at the table!

Cranberry and Sage Roasted Chicken
Yield: 2-4 servings, depending on the size of your bird

1 TBS vegetable oil
1 whole chicken
1 cup cranberry sauce, whole berry or smooth
3/4 cup white wine
1 medium onion, preferably sweet, sliced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ground sage
salt, pepper, parsley

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Heat a cast iron Dutch oven on the stove top over medium-high heat. Brown the chicken in the oil until it is a nice golden color all over. Remove from heat and arrange the chicken so that it is breast side up in the pan.

Place the onions and garlic in and around the chicken. Mix the cranberry sauce and wine together and pour over the bird. Sprinkle with the sage, parsley, salt, and pepper. Cover and bake at 325 degrees F for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the juice runs clear (actual cooking times will depend of the size of your bird). The nice thing about cast iron and low heat, is that if you overcook it, it will still taste fabulous!

At the end, remove the lid and roast under the broiler (be careful not to have the bird too close to the broiler) for about 10 minutes or until nice and golden.

Remove the bird to a separate plate to rest while making the gravy. Place the Dutch oven over medium heat on the stove top. If there is too much fat in the pan, you can spoon some off before making the gravy. When the mixture is gently bubbling, add cornstarch slowly by sprinkling it from a mesh strainer. Stirring while sprinkling in the cornstarch is the key to lump-free gravy. You will need about 1 tablespoon of cornstarch for every cup of pan juices. I usually end up with at least of cup of juices, but if there is not quite enough, you could add a little chicken broth to extend it. Serve with your favorite side dish!

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