Have you ever looked at a pile of vegetables and thought about how much better they would be if they were actually a big piece of meat? Hm. That's not actually possible, but the closest you can get is roasting a chicken on a bed of vegetables and letting those vegetables absorb all of the drippings that run off of the bird. And, according to senior food editor Rick Martinez, it's actually pretty easy to do.
Unlike putting vegetables in the cavity, which flavors the chicken but leaves the inside vegetables kind of meh, lining the bottom of a baking sheet with vegetables and aromatics allows the chicken to auto-baste that layer. In other words, the vegetables underneath taste vaguely rich and meaty, but are still vegetables. Good for resolutions to eat more vegetables. Better for the part of you that really doesn't want to. It's an especially great technique when you're just cooking for you and bae. Plus, no one needs to take side dish duty: The side is already built in.
Martinez says that the ideal set-up would be to have the chicken slightly elevated so that air can circulate between the chicken and the vegetables. It's just prettier that way, and allows even the vegetables directly under the chicken to caramelize.
At Dai Due in Austin, for example, the chef puts the chicken directly on an oven rack right above a lower-down baking sheet with vegetables to get the full effect. If that seems a little extreme for your home kitchen, you can fashion a makeshift rack on top of your trusty sheet pan by getting creative and elevating the bird using four lemon halves (flat side down) or making a vegetable rack out of thick carrots and celery. All a "rack" really entails, he says, is something slightly taller holding up the chicken over the stuff that's underneath it. Or you can just put a chicken directly on top of the vegetables. Either way: Doable.
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Here's how to do it: First, cut your vegetables. Any hardy vegetable (so, forget peas, corn, leafy spinach) goes. Maybe you'll slice some onions, and add some cloves of garlic, hunks of carrot, and steak-fry-looking potatoes. Throw in a few sprigs of thyme and rosemary. Or you could incorporate leeks, shallots, and garlic. (We know our test kitchen manager Brad Leone likes roasting a whole chicken on a bed of leeks.) If you want to get crazy with it, line that tray with potatoes and kimchi! Throw in a little chorizo, Italian sausage, bacon, or pancetta! Line the whole thing with rounds of sliced baguette! (We have a recipe that does this, and it's brilliant.
The possibilities are endless—but Martinez would always suggest going heavy on the potatoes (because chicken fat is better than butter, duh). Just make sure to cover all of these vegetables in a thin coat of olive oil and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper before you put the chicken on top. It'll help them cook more evenly and absorb flavor throughout.
Remember to toss the vegetables together two to three times throughout the roast. So, if you're roasting a whole chicken (or just a few pieces) for about 40 to 50 minutes, get those vegetables rolling around in the accumulated juices every 15 or minutes or so.
Assuming your oven isn't cranked up to 450° or 475°, your vegetables shouldn't overcook before your chicken's done. That really is it. Much easier than reorganizing your pantry, calling your grandma more, and whatever else you promised yourself you'd do this year, right?