Food & Drink

A turkey-less Thanksgiving?

Why not buck tradition this Thanksgiving and serve stuffed chicken instead of turkey?
Why not buck tradition this Thanksgiving and serve stuffed chicken instead of turkey? TNS

Time to get real, people, and own up to Thanksgiving’s dirty little secret.

That 20-pound bird you spend so much time fretting over and slave to get in the oven? Um, nobody loves it.

Your family might like it well enough to eat it at your holiday dinner, so long as there’s a boat full of gravy within reaching distance or a big jar of mayo in the fridge for the next day’s sandwiches.

Well, maybe not everyone hates it. There’s always a weirdo or two at the table willing to eat anything simply because it’s set in front of him.

But do your dinner guests love turkey in the same way they adore stuffing, which never makes it to leftover status? Does it rival Grandma’s candied sweet potatoes? Elicit the same excitement as the homemade corn pudding, or green bean casserole with its irresistible crunchy French’s fried onion topping?

Or are your dinner guests simply being polite about this turkey of an entree so that they won’t feel guilty scarfing down the pumpkin pie served for dessert?

Turkey isn’t necessarily hard to cook (just stuff, grease it up and roast it), but it does take a deft touch to assure the white and dark meat finish cooking at the same time. And what about the headaches that go with figuring out how to thaw the frozen bird?

This year, why not flout tradition and instead make your Thanksgiving centerpiece something your guests will really enjoy — a fat, juicy chicken. It’s just as impressive on a platter, and tasty, but takes a lot less time to make. Whereas turkey so often cooks up dry and flavorless, a good roast chicken will never let you down.

Spend extra money on a good-quality bird for the holiday.

How delicious can a good chicken be? Good enough to prompt an offer of marriage, if 2011’s “100 Recipes Every Woman Should Know: Engagement Chicken and 99 Other Fabulous Dishes to Get You Everything You Want in Life” is to be believed.

This recipe from Kevin Dundon’s “The Raglan Road Cookbook,” which calls for cooking the bird with an initial blast of high heat, followed by roasting at a lower temperature, doesn’t make such elaborate claims. But it could. Wonderfully aromatic and a breeze to prepare, the dish delivers everything you expected from a good roast chicken — crispy skin, tender breast meat and dense, flavorful dark meat.

In short, it’s glorious and a great way to kick off a new Thanksgiving tradition.

STUFFED CHICKEN WITH ROASTED ROOT VEGETABLES

Chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees, but it’s not a bad idea to take it out of the oven once it’s reached 155 or 160 degrees — a few minutes on the counter before serving will allow the meat to rest, which is especially important when you’re cooking a whole chicken that you plan to carve. The original directions called to first parboil the veggies, but I skipped that step. I cooked the veggies in the same pan as the chicken, without a rack, so they were more soft than toothsome.

For chicken

1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened

1/2 medium-sized onion, diced

Grated zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons freshly chopped sage, parsley, thyme or rosemary

4 cups soft white breadcrumbs

1 large good-quality roasting chicken (4 to 5 pounds)

Salt and pepper

1/2 lemon

For vegetables

8 small carrots, halved lengthwise

2 small parsnips, halved and cut into wedges

12 large shallots, peeled and trimmed

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into wedges

1/4 cup olive oil, or more as needed

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Salt and black pepper

Prepare chicken: Melt butter in a medium-sized saucepan, add in diced onion and cook over a very low heat for 5 minutes or until completely softened. Mix in lemon zest, freshly chopped herbs and breadcrumbs. Season this mixture lightly. Allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Stuff cavity of chicken with breadcrumb mixture. Add half a lemon, to keep stuffing in place and for additional flavor. Place chicken onto a roasting tray with a rack (it allows air to circulate under the bird and helps brown the skin all over). Toss vegetables in oil and add thyme, Place in pan under the bird, so they catch all the drippings.

Loosen skin of chicken. Take additional butter and gently massage it into the breasts under the skin of the bird. (I also rubbed butter all over the outside of the chicken.) Sprinkle a little bit of salt and cracked black pepper over the skin. (You can add grated garlic, grated lemon, herbs and spices to taste for a little more excitement.) If you like, tie the chicken’s legs together at the ankles with one piece of twine, and then use another piece of twine to tie the wings to the breast.

If you don’t have a roasting pan with a rack, place the vegetables in the pan first and rest the chicken on top. to prop the bird off the pan.

Transfer chicken to oven and roast for 15 to 20 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and cook chicken and vegetables for another hour or until the juices run clear. The meat, particularly on the legs and thighs, should feel tender. Turn vegetables from time to time so they brown on all sides. Check for doneness with an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh; it should read 165 degrees.

Put vegetables on a serving platter, correct seasoning and place roasted chicken on top.

Serves 4 to 6.

— Adapted from “The Raglan Road Cookbook” by Kevin Dundon (Mitchell Beazley; September 2016; $34.99)

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