Monday, March 26, 2012

Jonathan Waxman’s Roasted Chicken with Salsa Verde

         When you can vividly remember a lunch you had ten years ago, I would have to say that’s the power of great cooking.  I distinctly remember a visit to Washington Park on lower Fifth Avenue.  The restaurant marked the triumphant return to New York of Chef Jonathan Waxman.  Chef Waxman was a California cuisine pioneer. Name a famed West Coast restaurant and Waxman may very well have worked there.  For starters, add Michael’s in Santa Monica to a list that included a stint at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse.  In the mid 80s, he took Manhattan by storm after opening an Upper East Side place called, appropriately, Jam’s, which was pretty much how you felt jammed into the bar waiting for your table.  Such was the incredible popularity of the  place.  And what was it that I remember from that lunch in 2002?  Why Chef Waxman’s chicken, of course.
Barbuto, in what was once an
Industrial Space in Greenwich Village
         It must be odd to be so completely associated with one dish when your repertoire contains so many others. Chef Waxman's Fritto Misto that was at the top of its class last time I tasted it.  But Chef Waxman brings his chicken to the table with an interesting pedigree:  His grandparents were Chicken farmers.  So he knows his way around the bird.  And, at his latest location, he’s serving his take on all things Italian. He even wrote his own Italian cookbook, pictured above.   At 775 Washington St. (between Jane and West 12th St (212-924-9700)) Barbuto is home to the latest incarnation of Chef Waxman’s Chicken, still roasted to absolute perfection, still accompanied by crisp French fries but now topped with a deliciously complex salsa that launches the chicken into another sphere altogether.  It’s amazingly easy to make at home.  The technique is one you can use again and again. It involves searing the skin side of the bird in a cast iron skillet which the goes into the oven to roast.  Turning to the salsa, which you can make while the chicken roasts, don’t be put off by the lengthy list of ingredients.  The must-haves are the capers, anchovies, garlic and parsley, the olive oil and the red wine vinegar.  Everything else on the list just builds up more flavor.  You can use a mortar or pestle but Chef Waxman gives you a dispensation: you can be forgiven for using your food processor instead.  Chef Waxman’s recipe gives each diner at whole half chicken.  He says you can eat half at the restaurant and take the rest home.  Andrew and I found our 4 lb chicken served four portions, perfect in our case since he could opt for the white while I enjoyed the dark and we got two meals out of one bird.  Here's the recipe:

Recipe for Jonathan Waxman's Roasted Chicken with Salsa Verde and French Fries:

For the Chicken:
One 4-pound chicken
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 lemon, halved
  For the Salsa Verde:
1/4 cup salt-packed capers, soaked in cold water for 1 hour and drained
4 oil-packed anchovy fillets, soaked in cold water for 15 minutes and patted dry
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped arugula
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup chopped basil
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped tarragon
1/4 cup chopped sage
1/4 cup snipped chives
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the French Fries:
3 large russet potatoes
2 quarts of Canola or other vegetable oil.
My cast iron skillet could not contain
both pieces of chicken so after I'd browned
each on individually, I used a bigger skillet for
oven portion of the recipe.
Preheat the oven to 375°. Place a large cast iron skillet over high heat for five minutes.  Using kitchen scissors, cut out the backbone. Flatten the chicken and pull out the breast bone. Cut the chicken in half through the breast, rub the sides all over with the olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Set the chicken skin side down in the cast iron skillet; if your skillet cannot accommodate both halves of the chicken, cook each half separately.  Sear the chicken until the skin is golden brown.  Then put it skin side up in the oven and roast for 40 minutes, or until the juices run clear. Transfer to a platter and let it red skin side up for 15 minutes.  Reduce the over temperature to 250 degrees.  You will use the oven to keep the French fries warm.
When the chicken goes in the oven…
Peel the potatoes and cut them lengthwise into 1/3 inch slices.  Stack the slices and cut lengthwise into 1/3 inch fries.  Place the fries in a large bowl of cold water to cover and soak for 20 minutes.  Drain and repeat the process for another 20 minutes.
Make the Salsa Verde
In a food processor, pulse the capers with the anchovies and garlic until finely chopped. Add all of the remaining ingredients and pulse to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Heat the canola or vegetable oil in a fryer or large, heavy-bottomed pot to a temperature of 375 degrees.  For truly crispy fries, you need that kind of heat.  Working in small batches, fry the potatoes for 8 to 10 minutes until they are golden brown.  Transfer to a paper-towel lined baking sheet and keep warm in the 250 degree oven.

Serve the chicken with the salsa verde and the fries.  A tossed green salad is the perfect accompaniment.  

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