Herb-roasted chicken, roasted parsnips and Brussels sprouts, pearl couscous

I didn’t cook much this past week–between hurrying out to catch the most recent Scott Bateman Animation Show at the PIT and suffering through the last throes of my cold, I was working through leftovers for dinner. So it was nice to spend some time in the kitchen last night.

I knew I wanted to roast chicken pieces. I bought a whole chicken on special at Whole Foods and cut it up. I’m not that great at cutting up a chicken, but I’m getting better with practice. I hadn’t really cut up my own chicken by the time I became a vegetarian, and obviously I wasn’t cutting up any during those nearly 10 years. (That would be kind of twisted; “I don’t eat the meat, but I sure love to butcher the animals!” No, I think not.) Since then I’ve mostly resorted to prepackaged chicken parts, but have been trying to build my skills since you can save so much money buy cutting up your own. I read through the description in the Joy of Cooking, carefully watched a “Good Eats” episode where Alton demonstrates the technique, and even took some cues from an old episode of “Space Ghost: Coast to Coast” in which Martin Yan demonstrates how you can rotate and flex the bird’s joints to loosen them up for cutting. “So you relax the chicken!” he exclaims cheerfully, to which Zorak retorts, “The chicken is not relaxed; the chicken is dead!

What I should have done was watch a recent video on Gluten-Free Girl, in which the Chef demonstrates how to break down a chicken. (No, Scott, the answer to that is not “If you can’t send him to Guantanamo, keep him in the interrogation room and play Good Chef, Bad Chef.”) The Chef (playing Good Chef here) goes slowly enough that you can see what he’s doing, and I finally realized that part of my mistake is that I’ve been taking off the wings and legs before tackling the breast, instead of starting from the breast. I think my next effort will be easier.

I’m not complaining; I did well enough, and the thighs actually looked like thighs instead of industrial accidents, so that’s good. I rubbed the pieces with a mixture of kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, paprika, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, thyme and oregano, and roasted them in a cast-iron skillet, skin-side down for 20 minutes and then turned over to roast for another 20 minutes. The meat was juicy and delicious.

I also roasted parsnips and Brussels sprouts. I think I should have taken them out about five minutes sooner, as there were a couple little charchoal-ified parsnip sticks at the edges of the pan, but mostly they were wonderfully caramelized and savory.

And I wanted to do something with the tomatoes I had picked up at Whole Foods, so I improvised a salad of pearl couscous–the big, oversized pieces. It’s also known as Israeli couscous, though this particular package had been manufactured in Lebanon, so I guess that wouldn’t be appropriate.

Unfortunately the cooking instructions on the package were only in Lebanese, so I had to dig around to find the proper ratio of water to couscous and I’m not totally convinced I got it right. While the couscous cooked I quartered cherry tomatoes, sliced some Kalamata olives and minced some parsley, and combined them with a bit of the olive brine and some olive oil, salt and pepper.

When the couscous was done I mixed it all together, then let it sit for about 5 minutes while everything else finished cooking. If I do it again I’ll want to spend some more time confirming the correct proportion of water, and maybe add a bit of minced garlic, plus more of the olive brine. For that matter, I’d make sure I had more olives on hand.

A tasty dinner, if I may say so myself. The couscous makes good leftovers. I also made stock with the rest of the chicken carcass and some vegetable ends and trimmings I’d been keeping in the freezer for such a purpose, but that’s not a particularly photogenic process. If I could convey smell on the Internet, that would be something else again.

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