PHOTO BY MICHAEL PIAZZA
Tarragon and chicken were made for one another—here, stuffed under the skin at the breast and thigh, the herb scents the bird with a permeating sweetness that is the star of the show. Surrounding the chicken are lentils and first-of-the-season root vegetables prepared simply, dressed with French-style vinaigrette, but you could make this any time of year using storage roots instead. The ingredients are many and the instructions are long, but it really is very simple.
Serves 4, with leftovers
For the chicken:
1 whole chicken, 3–4 pounds, gizzards removed, patted dry
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 big bunch tarragon, divided
1 lemon, halved
2 whole garlic cloves
extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup white wine or white vermouth (or water)
In the morning before you plan to roast the chicken, rub the bird all over with plenty of salt and pepper and cover loosely to rest in the refrigerator. Remove from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature about an hour before cooking time.
Preheat oven to 425°F. Dry the chicken with paper towels and separate the skin from the breasts and thighs using your fingers. Take 1 tablespoon of butter and a few leaves of tarragon and shove them up under the breast skin on each side, pressing the butter down to make an even layer. Insert more tarragon under the thigh skin, then put the remainder of the bunch (including the stems) into the cavity followed by ½ of the lemon, 1 clove of garlic and ½ of the onion. Tie the legs of the chicken together with kitchen twine.
Heat a cast-iron skillet until really hot and carefully place the chicken inside (it will sputter and spurt). Slice the remaining half onion and scatter it around the bottom of the skillet and drizzle the top of the chicken with a bit of olive oil. Pour in the wine over the onions and place the skillet in the oven, chicken legs pointing to the back, and roast undisturbed for 15 minutes, then baste with any juices from the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat to 400°, return the pan to the oven and roast an additional 45 minutes or an hour, adding ¼ cup water if the onions on the bottom look too dark.
For the lentils and beet-carrot salad:
1 cup beluga or Puy lentils, rinsed and checked for stones
1 bay leaf
Red wine vinegar
8 baby Chioggia beets, scrubbed
8 carrots, scrubbed, with 1-inch of greens attached, cut into thirds on the bias
1 shallot, sliced into rings
1 bunch flat-leaf Italian parsley, leaves only
1 tablespoon crème fraîche (or heavy cream)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon tarragon leaves
2 tablespoons minced chives
Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the lentils and bay leaf. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender—check by tasting, but this should take 25–30 minutes. Drain, discard bay leaf and pour into a bowl, then sprinkle with 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar and ½ teaspoon salt; set aside to cool.
Bring a second large pot of salted water to a boil. Trim the beet greens to about 1-inch, add to the boiling water and cook until tender, checking with the tip of a knife—this will take anywhere from 20–30 minutes. Drain. When cool enough to handle, peel the beets by rubbing the skins with your hands—they should slip off easily. Cut into quarters, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar and set aside to cool.
While the beets cook, roast the carrots. Toss the cut carrots with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange on a baking sheet and roast in a 400° oven until tender and beginning to brown at the edges, about 20–30 minutes. Remove from the oven and add carrots to the beets.
In a serving bowl stir together the remaining clove of garlic, grated, with 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons olive oil and the shallot rings. Season to taste with salt and pepper, allow the shallot to “pickle” for 2–3 minutes, then stir in the lentils and parsley leaves. Set aside.
In a second serving bowl stir together 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, the crème fraîche or heavy cream, Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons olive oil, tarragon leaves and the chives. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then fold in the cooked beets and carrots. (You can dress both salads in advance; the flavors will continue to develop the longer they sit.)
When the chicken has roasted at least 1–1¼ hours total, remove the pan from the oven and check for doneness with an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thigh: It should read 165°F. Allow the chicken to rest 5 minutes while you assemble the rest of the meal. Carve the chicken and serve with the beets, carrots and lentil salad.
Sarah Blackburn is a home cook, recipe developer, soccer mom, Italophile and managing editor at Edible Boston. She can be reached at email@example.com.