Abandon all hopes of tidy and brief explanations in this post. There are a lot of pictures I have included here too that I think explain, as well as I can, how to create this simple and extremely delicious version of a common roast chicken dinner. But I moved to say first that this is a meal that I’ve made hundreds of times in just as many variations. Let’s face it, roast chicken is traditional folk food the world over; a meal that finds a comfortable place on both rich and poor tables alike. Portable, industrious, nutritious, and satisfyingly delicious; it is one of my favorite meals period.
At a Mediterranean restaurant about a year back I ordered the rotisserie chicken. I was instantly warped back to my time backpacking in Europe with my girlfriend. At that time, my food budget of 10 Euros per day afforded us at least one daily roast chicken. Throughout the Northern Mediterranean Coast the chicken was spiced with something I couldn’t place but also couldn’t get enough of. In the restaurant this night I was able to ask what this cryptic flavor was. ”I think you call it Sumac” the waiter said. ”The shrub?” I said, totally puzzled. Sumac grew wild all over where I grew up. And for fear of confusing it with the infamous “poison sumac” I never tried to, nor did I know, you could eat it. I’ve been meaning to experiment with it ever since.
Having no recipe, I tried to re-create the flavor from memory. I started with an organic free-range chicken (happy meat tastes better). I then took handful of sumac buds, about a tbsp. of salt and peppercorns and some dried parsley and placed them in my spice grinder (a recommissioned coffee grinder). I ground them well into a rubbing powder. I then prepared crushed fresh garlic with about 1/3 cup of good olive oil. Having already cleaned and salted the raw chicken inside and out, I rubbed the garlic mixture all over the bird and then followed suit with the rub. I placed the uncovered bird breast down on a roasting rack in the preheated oven and turned it down to about 350*.
A couple weeks ago I ate some homemade spatzle at a friend’s house. I’d never realized just how easy it was until I watched her make it. I decided to give a try. Luckily, I was able to find a spatzle maker for about 6 bucks at a kitchen store near my house; though I have seen them for as much as $16. My friend Joelle did the honors and prepared the spatzle dough according to the recipe on the maker’s package. The dough turns out thick and sticky. It is then loaded into the hopper over a boiling pot of water. The hopper is rubbed along the grate to produce small pellets of dough. As the pellets drop in the water they form odd shaped small pasta. The pasta cooks for about a minute and then is left to drain and cool.
When the chicken was removed and set aside to cool, I moved on to the next step with the spatzle. Once fully drained and cooled, the spatzle is then pan fried in a good helping of butter, salt and pepper. To spice things up,I chopped half an onion, parsley and a small zucchini to add to the mix. I generally let the chicken rest for about 10 min. before carving into it. But I often cut the skin between the thigh and breast immediately to release steam and heat more quickly. I don’t know if this is actually a good thing but it has always seemed to work well for me. This 10 minutes allowed me to prepare the spatzle in the pan and get the salad ready.
My favorite salad as of late has been a really simple one using the best of what is seasonal. While everything else was cooking I was steaming a skinned and diced golden beet.
I remove the beet from the steamer basket and instantly place it in a small bowl with a small glug of rice vinegar and salt. while the beet cooled in the bowl I got the greens ready. I grabbed a heap of arugula, placed the warm beets on top, added a glug of olive oil, lemon zest, salt and pepper.
On the plate the whole thing looked pretty nice, but the taste was even better. Not only did everything come out great, I was able to re-create the chicken of my golden memory. In fact, I may never prepare roast chicken another way again. As for the spatzle, it was excellent. Though, not without room for improvement. I have faith that next time I’ll nail it. Yum.