Sumac and Thyme Roast Chicken

Here’s the thing: my Dad turned the towels pink.

Which is ironic because he is super dialed in with everything else yet the kitchen towels were Pepto pink. I’m not sure if I should feel sympathy or astonishment that a someone who was a long-time bachelor got so far without this life skill. But you can’t blame him — he’s a bit out of sorts at the moment because my stepmother is visiting family in France and he’s flying solo.

If left to his own devices, my dad totally lets loose. I know so because it looked like a full-on bachelor pad — with sections of the Wall Street Journal peppering every surface, a few corked bottles of wine waiting for their next pour, tennis and cycling paraphernalia strewn about, and ESPN on full blast on every TV. Oh, and an abundance of hard-boiled eggs. Though my dad is quite a decent cook, he’d subsist on hard-boiled eggs and toast if given the chance.

That’s when I decided a Sunday dinner with roast chicken was in order. My stepmother is the queen of getting us all together for regular family dinners, so, I wanted to give my Dad a bit of that despite the fact Michele is multiple time zones away.

In the spirit of him dying the towels pink, I felt a pink-hued chicken was in order and made this sumac and thyme roasted chicken. The sumac left over from their travels to Lebanon and thyme because well, every good French gardener grows it. The chicken dry brined for a few hours before roasting in a well-worn Le Creuset cast iron skillet (via a technique Melissa Clark detailed recently in The Times). The chicken got crisp skin and a pink hue from the sumac then I served it over garlic toasts, soaked with a ladle of pan juices, and a springy salad of earthly beets, sweet strawberries, and peppery watercress.

And then it happened: Dad took a bite and it seemed a bit of calm was restored — even if the TV was still blaring the Eastern Conference Finals and there was little hope for those pink towels.

Sumac-Roasted Chicken Salad

Technique modified from Melissa Clark

  • Makes: 4 to 6 servings
  • Total Time: 2 hours plus time for brining
  • Hands-On Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • For the chicken:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 tablespoon ground sumac
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, plus more for serving
  • 4 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 (4 to 5 pound) bone-in, skin-on whole chicken
  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • For the salad:
  • 2 bunches baby beets, trimmed and cleaned
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the bread and serving
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoon good-quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 bunch arugula or watercress (about 2 cups)
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 pound ripe strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 4 (1-inch) thick pieces of country bread
  • 1 garlic clove, cut in half

Instructions

Combine the oil, sumac, salt, thyme leaves, and garlic in a bowl and mix until well combined. Rub the chicken inside and out (and under the skin) with the mixture. Put a few turns of freshly ground black pepper all over the chicken. Squeeze the lemon quarters all over the chicken then place them in the cavity. (If you can, do this 4 to 8 hours ahead and refrigerate the bird uncovered.) Otherwise, let it rest uncovered at room temperature.

Heat oven to 475°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Meanwhile, lay a piece of foil on a baking sheet. Drizzle beets with some of the oil, season with a pinch of salt, and roast until a pairing knife comes out easily, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, place a large cast-iron or other heavy, ovenproof skillet in the oven and heat at least 15 minutes. (If you seasoned the chicken in advance, take it out of the fridge so it can warm to room temperature.)

Using a sharp knife, cut the chicken skin connecting the legs to the body. Splay the thighs open until you feel the joint pop on each side. Carefully transfer chicken, breast-side up, to the hot skillet. Press down on the legs so they rest flat on the bottom of the pan and drizzle all over with a spoonful of oil. Roast for 30 minutes. Rotate the pan 180° then continue to roast the chicken until the thigh meat is no longer pink, 15 to 20 minutes more (for a total cooking time of 45 to 50 minutes). Remove chicken from oven, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let chicken rest for 5 minutes before carving.

When the beets are ready, set them aside until they are cool enough to handle. Peel them and cut them into quarters. Toss the beets with the vinegar and honey.

Meanwhile, brush the bread slices with the olive oil on both sides. While you carve the chicken, toast the bread in the oven until crisp. When the croutons are toasted, rub one side of each slice of bread with the cut end of a raw garlic clove.

When ready to serve, toss the watercress or arugula with the remaining oil and lemon juice, then season with salt and pepper. Carve the chicken and serve a quarter of the meat over each a piece of bread and ladle with pan juices. Divide the lettuces, beets, and berries amongst the bowls, top with a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of olive oil, some additional fresh thyme and serve.


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