My mom was a good cook and, God bless, she put dinner on the table every night for us four kids. No take out. Nothing frozen. Nothing premade. I’ll admit, some of the meals weren’t that fab – her pan-cooked (read: stewed/steamed not seared) cube steaks come to mind and, please, don’t ever mention Mom’s beets to me – but having raised only half as many children as she did, I give Mom a ton of credit for getting a home cooked meal on the table by 6:30 every night. One of Mom’s standouts was her baked chicken. Back in the day, these crispy-skinned chicken breasts made a weekly appearance on the table alongside steamed green beans and white rice drizzled with the rich pan juices, softened shallots and tender-sweet roasted garlic cloves. If you’re wondering who knew about shallots in the 60’s and early 70’s, it seems that my mom did. Less pungent than their larger yellow or red cousins, shallots, cooked or uncooked, add a flavorful perfume to mom’s green salads as well as in her homemade chicken or ham salad.
As my Mom did before me, I often turn to this easy-to-assemble number. When I’m feeling nostalgic, I recreate her version (check out the recipe in Fine Cooking along with a few of my other fave baked chicken recipes here) but more often than not, I riff off Mom’s original using whatever my fridge has to offer. I’ve written this recipe to feed four to six (appetite dependent) and, when it’s just the two of us I use the same amount of veggies with only two chicken breast halves (one whole breast, split, as pictured). If you’re deft with your knife, the ingredients pull together by the time the oven has come up to temperature. It bakes, unattended, for only an hour leaving plenty of time to cook up a starch, set the table, do some laundry or pour a glass of wine and read the paper. On those nights that you anticipate time-crunched dinner prep, the chicken and veggies can be assembled in the pan, covered and refrigerated up to 8 hours. When you are ready to bake, set the pan on the counter, uncovered, while the oven is heating.
Let’s go over a few basics.
Seasoning: During the summer months, I’ll clip fresh thyme and rosemary from my garden pots and use them instead of the Herbes de Provence (a fragrant combo of dried thyme, oregano, lavender, marjoram, rosemary and savory) listed in the recipe below. I use five or six, 3-inch sprigs of each one. You can strip the leaves from the stem, if you like, but normally I toss them in as is. I find that the leaves fall off during baking and savory goodness permeates the veggies and chicken nicely.
Chicken: If you’re having dinner with the Dodges, chicken breasts take center stage but large bone-in chicken thighs are mighty tasty as well.
Veggies: Other than the onion and garlic cloves (they are mandatory), I use whatever veggies I happen to have on hand. Sometimes I use carrots, broccoli and mushrooms, other times, like this version, I use cauliflower and mushrooms but any combination works. As a general rule of thumb, I use about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds of veggies (not counting the onions) but I never bother to weigh them. The only trick is to make sure they are cut into appropriate sizes so they bake until just tender within the time it takes to cook the chicken breasts. Here are some sizing guidelines:
- Root veggies (carrots, butternut squash or turnips) should be cut into 1-inch pieces and halved if very thick
- Add peas, fresh corn kernels or 1- inch pieces of medium thick asparagus in the final 15 minutes of baking.
- Cut medium-sized zucchini lengthwise then into 2-inch pieces and add in the beginning of baking.
- Cut broccoli into 2-inch florets and add in the beginning of baking.
- Small potatoes should be scrubbed and cut in quarters. If you are using potatoes in addition to the 2 pounds of veggies, it’s best to use larger pan (10 1/2 x 15 1/2 inches).
The Veggies (with Carrots) should look like this:
Topped with chicken:
And… baked to deliciousness:
Roasted Chicken & Veggies
1 medium cauliflower (about 1 1/2 lbs.), cut into large 1 1/2 to 2-inch florets
1 large onion (yellow or red), roughly chopped
8 oz. cremini or button mushrooms, wiped cleaned and quartered
4 to 8 garlic cloves, no need to peel
2 1/2 Tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. dried Herbes de Provence
Coarse salt & freshly ground pepper
2 chicken breasts, split (4 pieces), about 2 1/2 lbs. total weight
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 425°F.
- Pile the cauliflower, onions, mushrooms and garlic cloves into a 9 x 13-inch pan (I use Pyrex®). Drizzle about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil over the veggies; sprinkle the herbs de Provence along with a generous dusting of salt and pepper. Using a flipping motion similar to tossing veggies in a skillet, (you can also use your hands or a silicone spatula), toss the veggies in the pan to coat evenly with the oil and seasonings and spread evenly in the pan. Dredge the chicken, skin side down, in the veggies to pick up some of the seasoning and arrange, skin side up on top of the veggies. Drizzle the chicken with the remaining oil and generously sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Bake until the veggies are just tender when pierced with a knife and the chicken skin is crackly golden brown and a instant read thermometer reads 165°F when interested in the thickest part of the largest breast, 55 to 60 minutes. Move the pan to a rack and, using a potholder, tilt the pan to move the pan juices around the edges while scraping up the brown nubbins with the edge of a spoon. Be careful as the juices will bubble and sizzle a bit. Serve immediately or cover loosely with foil for up to 15 minutes.