Friday, May 13, 2011

Melissa Clark’s Mother’s recipe for Thyme-Roasted Chicken with Mustard Croutons and Melissa’s recipe for Brussels Sprouts Salad

Melissa Clark, Author of 29 Cookbooks

Who, you may ask, is Melissa Clark?  And for that matter, who is her mother?  I can almost guarantee that once you have tasted this wonderfully aromatic baked chicken dish and its accompanying Brussels Sprouts Salad, you will be dying to know Melissa--and her mother-- better.  All that will require is a once a week visit to Melissa’s “A Good Appetite” column in Wednesday’s New York Times.  Or better yet, you can revel in Melissa’s recipe craft in her great cookbook " In the Kitchen with  a Good Appetite” (Hyperion 2010).  There you’ll find 150 reasons to love Melissa along with a collection of wonderfully written food-related stories.  
 The story surrounding this easy and delicious chicken recipe is this: Melissa’s Mother is forever reading her recipes in the Times just like the rest of us.  One day she called her daughter to say that she’d made her chicken recipe in the Times and reported that “it was terrific”.  Melissa immediately became suspicious because the elder Mrs. Clark, a psychiatrist, never follows recipes.  This seems to be a family trait.  The reason we love Melissa so much is that she takes home cooking to a new level. That’s not to say she complicates anything.  Her food isn’t fussy at all.  What she does is to let us in on new flavor combinations, new ingredients she’s discovered and new ways to serve up tried and true favorites we’ve used for years.  She tells us how she creates meals, whatever her inspiration.  She makes much of the fact that she works out of a standard New York kitchen which is generally only slightly bigger than a bread box.  But out of her kitchen come robust flavors that encourage us all to get into in the kitchen. She proves that home cooking is fun, nurturing and not at all difficult. Which is precisely why these recipes are so worth making.
Originally, Melissa’s recipe called for a whole chicken.  What Mrs. Clark did was to substitute that for cut-up chicken parts.  And then, adding another dimension entirely, she slathered the “croutons” with good mustard.  The tangy taste of the mustard not only combined deliciously with the drippings from the chicken but it also added fabulous flavor to the bread underneath which crisps while roasting.
I cannot claim to be nearly as talented as either Melissa or her mother but I too substituted chicken parts for chicken thighs, which I would choose hands down over any part of the bird.  The thrifty side of me reveled in using some days-old ciabatta bread which was superb.  Lacking a small roasting pan, I opted for Pyrex baking dish and placed it on a metal sheet pan to distribute the heat evenly.  Do make this dish.  It takes just over an hour to cook but all of about 15 minutes to prepare.  The Brussels Sprouts salad comes after.  Here are the recipes with thanks to both Ms. Clarks.

Recipe for Melissa Clark’s Mother’s Thyme Roasted Chicken with Mustard Croutons
Country bread, ciabatta or other sturdy bread, preferably stale and     sliced 1/2 inch thick
Dijon mustard, as needed
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
1 (4 -5 lb) chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces, rinsed and patted dry
Or two skin-on chicken thighs per person
1 head garlic, separated into cloves (but not peeled)
1 bay leaf, torn into pieces
1/2 bunch thyme, sprigs
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F Lay the bread slices in the bottom of a heavy-duty roasting pan in one layer. Brush with mustard, drizzle liberally with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

  1. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper and place the pieces on the bread, arranging the white meat in the center and the dark meat and wings around the sides. Scatter the garlic cloves, bay leaf, and thyme over the chicken and drizzle everything with more oil (take care to drizzle the garlic cloves).
  1. Roast the chicken until it's lightly browned and the thigh juices run clear when pricked with a knife, about 50 minutes. If you like, you can crisp the skin by running the pan under the broiler for a minute, though you might want to rescue the garlic cloves before you do so they don't burn (if you don't plan to eat them, it doesn't matter so much). Serve the chicken with pieces of bread from the pan.

Recipe for Brussels Sprouts Salad
I can’t say that Andrew and I are huge fans of Brussels Sprouts.  As a child, they were often pushed around my plate and left uneaten.  Since then, we’ve enjoyed some really nice recipes using them.  So when I saw this take on them, I wanted to try it.  I enjoyed the crunch of the sprouts and the toasted walnuts, the tang of the cheese and the lemon juice.  Andrew, however, did not.  This recipe makes a lot of Salad so I had plenty left over.  Remembering a Thanksgiving recipe of Brussels Sprouts and bacon,  I revisited the salad, folding in some crispy bacon and then putting the whole thing on the stove and stir-frying the sprouts.  The results were much more appealing to Andrew.  And it sounded like something Melissa wouldn’t mind.  After all, her mother changes Melissa’s recipes all the time.

10 oz Brussels sprouts, trimmed
Juice of 1/2 lemon Coarse salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
1 c toasted walnuts, chopped 3/4 c Manchego cheese, grated

6 slices of Smoked Bacon, cooked and chopped (optional)

Put the Brussels sprouts into a food processor fitted with the slicing disc.  Put the sprouts in a bowl and toss with lemon juice and a little salt and pepper. Let stand for 5 minutes. Add the olive oil and toss well. Gently stir in the walnuts and cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve immediately or let stand for one hour before serving. Alternatively, add the cooked bacon, put the ‘salad’ in a large skillet and cook for 5 minutes over medium high heat. Serve.