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Melissa Clark Gets Chicken
Clark Chicken

ometimes cooking is about shopping,” admits Melissa Clark, the popular New York Times columnist and author of the upcoming Dinner: Changing the Game (Clarkson Potter; hitting streets in early March). I’ve asked Clark about harissa, and how this relatively easy-to-find North African condiment made with pulverized chiles and garlic punches up the most trusted of weeknight dinner staples: roasted chicken. “With sheet-pan chicken, you think you know what it’s going to taste like—garlicky, maybe a little lemony, with crisp skin,” she says. “And it’s good. But dab on some harissa, or gochujang, or wasabi, or pesto—even an interesting, unexpected mustard—and you can transform the dish with very little effort.”

Dinner is not just an expertly tested cookbook, with 200 main-course recipes—each edited down to single page—that serve as a set piece for an easy and interesting dinner. The book is also a great democratizer for foods from around the world. Her concise pantry pages (casually called Ingredients to Keep on Hand) cover some serious ground. It’s Diamond Medallion status dining. There are seven types of vinegar included (sherry, cider, Chinese black), as well as fish sauce, kimchi, Indian pickle, sambal, and of course za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend you’ve been reading all about on TASTE. Clark includes all of these (trust me) easy-to-find ingredients in the book, and having personally made several of the recipes myself, I can say that her opening chapter, on chicken, truly shows her fluency with the global pantry.

It’s obvious that Clark adores cooking with chicken. “You can give the white meat to people who prefer their protein on the milder side, in nice slices uninterrupted by skin or sinew or gristle,” she says of cooking’s original white meat. “And then the dark meat pleases the more adventuresome eater, especially when you serve it on the bones.” (She especially loves the cartilage.)

Melissa Clark at home in Brooklyn

The chicken chapter includes 27 recipes, and paging through it, I found myself nodding in approval. Like when the DJ at Britpop night plays your favorite Blur and Super Furry Animals deep cuts back to back. There’s a whole-roasted bird with sumac and plums. There’s an interpretation of Colombian ajiaco with chicken breasts poached with cilantro stems, jalapeño, and chicken stock, finished with corn, avocado, and lime. There are breaded cutlets slathered with kumquat and cranberry chutney, and recipes with origins in Thailand, Vietnam, Turkey, and the American Southwest (featuring a very well-placed ranch dressing cameo).

From time to time I like to roast a chicken at a high temperature in my small Brooklyn apartment (the crispy skin is worth the smoke and burning eyes, or so I plead with my understanding wife). Clark’s version is stupidly simple. Basically, you buy a bunch of grapes and quick-cure them in sugar and salt. Next, rub the spatchcocked bird with fennel seeds, salt, pepper, lemon zest. Roast it all. Finish the dish with a quick pan sauce of sherry vinegar and butter. It was so good. Clark has a great knack for using one ingredient in as many forms in a recipe as possible. In this case it’s grapes, and the sherry vinegar (made from fermented fruit) adds a sourness to contrast with the sweetness. And as with the harissa chicken I dove into a few weeks earlier, it was winner winner, chicken dinner.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and drumsticks
  • 1.25 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • ¾ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons harissa
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4.5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts, halved lengthwise, rinsed, and thinly sliced into half moons
  • ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • ⅓ cup plain yogurt, preferably whole-milk (if using Greek, thin it with a little milk to make it drizzle-able)
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1 cup mixed soft fresh herbs, such as dill, parsley, mint, and/or cilantro leaves
  • Fresh lemon juice, as needed

One of my all-time favorites, this sheet-pan supper has it all—spicy harissa-laced roasted chicken; sweet, browned leeks; crunchy potatoes; plus a cool garnish of salted yogurt and plenty of fresh bright herbs. It’s a little lighter than your average roasted-chicken-and-potatoes dinner, and a lot more profoundly flavored. The key here (and with all sheet-pan suppers) is to make sure the ingredients can all cook together in the same pan. This means cutting sturdy, denser things into smaller chunks that will cook at the same rate (chicken, potatoes) and adding the more delicate ingredients (here, the leeks) toward the end so they don’t burn. Another important note: Don’t overpopulate the pan. You need to leave space between things so ingredients can brown and crisp rather than steam. If you want to double the recipe to feed six, you can, as long as you spread everything out in two pans rather than crowding them in one.

  1. Combine the chicken and potatoes in a large bowl. Season them with 2½ teaspoons of the salt and ½ teaspoon of the pepper. In a small bowl, whisk together the harissa, cumin, and 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Pour this mixture over the chicken and potatoes, and toss to combine. Let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the leeks, lemon zest, ¼ teaspoon of the salt, and the remaining 1½ tablespoons olive oil.
  3. Heat the oven to 425°F.
  4. Arrange the chicken and potatoes in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Then toss the potatoes lightly and scatter the leeks over the baking sheet. Roast until the chicken is cooked through and everything is golden and slightly crisped, 20 to 25 minutes longer.
  5. While the chicken cooks, place the yogurt in a small bowl. Grate the garlic clove over the yogurt, and season with the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
  6. Spoon the yogurt over the chicken and vegetables in the baking sheet (or you can transfer everything to a platter if you want to be fancy about it). Scatter the herbs over the yogurt, drizzle some olive oil and lemon juice over the top, and serve.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1.5 teaspoons fennel seeds, lightly crushed in a mortar and pestle
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 spatchcocked chicken (4½ to 5 pounds), patted dry with paper towels
  • 12 ounces red seedless grapes, stemmed (1½ cups)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar, or more to taste
  • 1.5 teaspoons unsalted butter

Spatchcocking chicken, also called butterflying, calls for cutting the bird along its backbone, then opening it up so that it can lie flat in the pan. Spatchcocked chickens cook quickly and evenly, turning gorgeously browned in the process. You can ask your butcher to spatchcock the chicken for you, but it’s not a hard thing to do yourself. Good, sharp poultry shears are all you need. Roasting grapes with a sprinkle of sugar and some sherry vinegar is one of those culinary party tricks that I pull out whenever I want to seem impressively elegant without actually doing much work. Here it is with a golden, spatchcocked chicken. Company-worthy, weeknight easy, and exceedingly pretty if you use a combination of red and green grapes. If you like, you can skip making the pan sauce and just serve the chicken with the grapes on top, drizzled with the sherry vinegar.

  1. In a small bowl, combine the 1 tablespoon salt, fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon pepper, lemon zest, and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Rub this mixture generously over the chicken. Place the chicken, skin-side up, on a rimmed baking sheet and let it stand for at least 1 hour.
  2. About 15 minutes before you are ready to cook the chicken, heat the oven to 475°F.
  3. Transfer the chicken to the oven and roast it for 20 minutes.
  4. In a small bowl, toss the grapes with the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil, the sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Scatter the grapes around the chicken, and roast until the chicken is just cooked through and the grapes are lightly caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes.
  5. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board to rest. Spoon the grapes into a bowl. Place the baking sheet over two burners on medium-high heat. Add the vinegar to the pan juices and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the baking sheet. Pour the mixture into a small saucepan and warm it over medium heat. Whisk in the butter.
  6. Carve the chicken and top it with the grapes and spoonfuls of the sauce.

Matt Rodbard

Matt Rodbard is the editor in chief of TASTE and author of Koreatown: A Cookbook, a New York Times best-seller.

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