Oct 05 2009

Fast Food My Way:
Roast Chicken for Dinner, Pronto? YES!

 
I love roast chicken, and enjoy making if for dinner, but cooking it takes a couple of hours, not to mention prep time. That’s too long if you’re rushed off your feet and the dinner gong is about to sound. But there is a solution that allows you to enjoy a hot, comforting meal without spending scads of time in the kitchen—store-roasted chicken.

I resisted HyperMart rotisserie chicken for a long time, in part because I’ve always prided myself on cooking from scratch. Furthermore, I thought that a store-bought roast chicken would be too salty, too dry, and too bland, not to mention a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. But not long ago I was convinced to buy one. John at the deli—he’s responsible for cooking the chickens—is also an enthusiastic home cook, and he’s a fellow cyclist who has a healthy respect for how he fuels his engine. When he said that at least once a week he brought a rotisserie chicken home for his family, I thought that it must be acceptable. The cost is modest at five dollars a bird, and the aromas were mouth-watering as I selected among the roasted birds on display. The roast remained hot for the 30 minute drive home, and after whipping up instant couscous and fresh green beans in 10 minutes, dinner was ready. The chicken? It was delicious! Not too salty, certainly not dry, and loaded with natural flavors.

The upshot? If you’re pressed for time and don’t want to stop at a fast food place for an indifferently prepared infarct burger or carry off the MSG special at the Asian takeaway, consider your local HyperMart’s deli counter. If their rotisserie chicken is as well made as the ones at my local, then you’re in for a wonderful dinner. And unless you’re serving four or more famished people, there’s a bonus—leftovers, which can be used in sandwiches, or shredded and mixed with stir-fries or rice pilaf.

Roast chicken is just the centerpiece, of course. For a well balanced meal you’ll want to have side dishes. Here are some suggestions for complete meals:

Chicken with Sides of Potato and Green Salads It doesn’t get any easier than this. While you’re at the store, buy potato salad at the deli counter, and choose a green salad mix in the produce department. Be sure to grab a bottle of your favorite salad dressing if you have none in your pantry. Once you get home, dinner’s on the table as fast as you can dish up the ready-made meal. This is Man Cooking at its most delicious.

Chicken with Sides of Corn on the Cob and Green Salad Look for corn on the cob in the freezer section at the HyperMart, pick up a green salad mix, and you’re all set for dinner. At home, microwave the corn to reheat it, toss and dress the salad, and carve the chicken. Total time? Ten to 20 minutes, depending on how quickly you can microwave, toss and carve.

Chicken with Sides of Mashed Potatoes and Spinach When you buy the roast chicken, pick up a packet of baby spinach in the produce department, and either a container of ready-made mashed potatoes or a packet of instant potato mix. I like Idahoan brand flavored mashed potato mixes for quick spuds—instant potatoes are a whole lot better than they used to be. Once you get home, toss the spinach with an abundant quantity of water in a large bowl, then swish the spinach to dislodge any grit. Lift the spinach from the water, allow it to drain a bit, then put the dripping spinach into a large pot. The clinging water is all that’s needed to cook it. Cover the pot and turn the heat up to high. Meanwhile, microwave the ready-made bowl of mashed potatoes until they’re steaming hot, or if you’re using instant potatoes, bring the required amount of water to boil in a pot. Following package instructions, reconstitute the instant spuds. Check the spinach, which should be cooked through by this time. Drain off the cooking water and keep the spinach hot while you carve the chicken into pieces. Plate the chicken, potatoes, and spinach, and enjoy. Total time? About 15-20 minutes.

Chicken with Sides of Couscous and Mixed Veg Pick up frozen mixed vegetables and a box of instant couscous when you’re at the market. Cook the couscous according to the provided instructions. This usually requires bringing water to boil and then turning off the heat after pouring the couscous into the pot. Cover the pot and allow the couscous to reconstitute while you heat the vegetables in a second pot. When the veg are hot, and the couscous fluffed, serve with the chicken. Total time? No more than 15 minutes.

Chicken with Sides of Green Beans and Roasted Potatoes & Carrots This requires a little more time to go from start to serving, but you don’t have to attend the cooking. Pick up a pound of fresh green beans or sugar snap peas from the produce department. Don’t forget potatoes and carrots. I like to use small red potatoes and baby carrots, which roast quickly. As soon as you get home, turn the oven on to 450 degrees. Wash, dry, then halve or quarter the potatoes—figure on three small or two medium potatoes per person—and put them in a roasting pan or, my preference, a well-seasoned large cast iron skillet. Now mix in a cup or so of carrots. I also toss in four to six large whole garlic cloves, and sprinkle the vegetables with a generous quantity of pepitas (pumpkin seeds). Drizzle a couple tablespoons of olive oil over the vegetables, season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle dried thyme and rosemary over all. Mix everything to coat the veg with oil and seasonings, pop them uncovered into the oven, and turn to the green beans. Snap off the stem ends and wash the beans, then put them in a pot with about an inch or two of water. Cover the pan and bring the water to a boil. Now all you have to do is enjoy some relaxation time.

While you wait for the meal to be ready, go take a shower, or set the table and unwind with a glass of wine. After 15 minutes, remove the green beans from the burner, drain them, toss on a thin slice of butter or substitute, season with salt and pepper, then set them aside to keep hot. Remove the potatoes and carrots from the oven, and place the chicken right on the top of them, then add any chicken roasting juices which accumulated in the plastic tray. Return the skillet to the oven and continue roasting for 15 more minutes. By reheating the chicken this way, you re-crisp the skin and assure the meat will be piping hot. This also enhances the flavor of the vegetables, since the chicken juices mix in with them.

After the additional 15 minutes has passed, check the potatoes. If they’re soft, you’re good to go. If not, roast another 10 minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven. If you want to be elegant, lift the chicken to a serving platter and surround it with the roasted vegetables. If you don’t want to bother with that, place the chicken on a warm plate, carve it into pieces, and serve with the roasted vegetables and green beans. Total cooking time is from 30 to 45 minutes. Total hands-on time is less than 15 minutes.

 

The next time you’re in a hurry for a home-cooked dinner but don’t have the time to do everything yourself, pick up a rotisserie chicken on your way home. By adding a couple side dishes, you’re in for a well-rounded and almost effortless meal that’s sure to fill in all the empty corners. Comfort food doesn’t get any easier than this. And that’s my kind of fast food.

 

Roast Chicken

 
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