The Cheap-Ass Gourmet – Roast Chicken with Roasted Potatoes and Braised Greens

The last time I did a cooking post, I got a nice email from a reader that was also a student.  She complained that even though she wanted to learn how to cook, some of the recipes I posted required either an expensive trip to the store (e.g.: turkey with red & green mole) or expensive equipment (e.g.: an outdoor grill, as with the grilled whole fish).  Would it be possible, she asked, to do a cooking post for someone relatively new to cooking on a shoestring budget?

I’m a little late in following through, but over the next three days I’m going to do three cooking posts for people on a budget.  Today’s post will be simple roast chicken.  Tomorrow, I’ll look at taking the leftover meat and making enchiladas with a simple homemade red sauce.  And then on Sunday, I’ll show how to take the last of the carcass and use it to make a Thai coconut & lemongrass soup.  All will be simple; all will be inexpensive; all will be delicious.

First, a few quick notes on roasting the chicken:

  1. If you’ve never roasted a chicken, fear not.  Roasting a chicken is about the easiest, hardest-to-screw-up recipes ever.  If you’re the type that avoids the kitchen because it can be intimidating, this is the recipe you.
  2. In this recipe I am asking you to use a free range chicken.  You can, of course, save a few dollars by getting a cheaper chicken than free range.  Don’t.  Free range chickens are grass fed and thus have actual chicken flavor, while the Foster Farms types are flavorless.  The big meat-processing plants feed chickens stuff designed to make them grow fast at the expense of taste.  Remember, this chicken is going to be used to flavor three different dinners, so spend the extra two bucks and get free range and – if its available where you are – local.
  3. I would also recommend spending a little extra money to get either kosher or sea salt as opposed to table salt.  This probably doesn’t increase any meal even as much as a penny, and the flavor difference is enormous – and well worth it.
  4. One of the inherent problems in cooking any bird is that the breast is the least fatty part, and since it faces straight up and can cook faster than the rest of the bird.  This usually forces you to overcook the breast, and is the reason breast meat so often turns out dry.  In this recipes the breast will be on it’s side for over 80% of the time it’s in the oven, forcing the fatty thighs and legs to be cooked quicker, which allows the breast to stay moist and juicy.
  5. The only equipment a student or new cook might not have in this recipe would be a roasting pan.  If you don’t own one, you can buy a cheap one at a place like K-Mart for a few bucks.

Recipe(s) after the jump.


1 Whole Free Range Chicken – ($9.00)

1 1/2 Tbl. Staple Olive Oil – ($0.05)

2 Clove Garlic – ($0.10)

1 Sprig Rosemary – ($0.35)

Salt & Pepper to Taste

1 lb. Red Potatoes – ($2.00)

1 Bunch Greens – ($1.50)

Total time from start to finish: Somewhere between an hour to an hour and a half, depending on whether you have one oven or two.

Amount of time you’re actually doing stuff aside from drinking wine: About 15-20 minutes total.

Serves: 4

Cost per Each Dinner:  – $3.25


Preheat the oven(s) to 450. – If your kitchen only has one oven, you’ll want to do the potatoes first.

The Potatoes

  1. Cut the potatoes half and then half again, so that they are quartered.  (If they are baby potatoes, just cut them in half.)
  2. Drizzle about ½ a tablespoon of olive oil into a roasting pan, and then sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper in the pan as well.
  3. Using a spatula, lightly toss the potatoes so that they are all covered in the salt, pepper and olive oil.
  4. Put them in the oven.  Take them out every 5-10 minutes and toss with the spatula, until they are a golden brown.  (Usually about 20-30 minutes in total.)
  5. If you are using one oven, put them aside until the chicken is done.

The Chicken

  1. Chop up the leaves from the rosemary sprig, crush one clove of garlic, and stir both together with ½ tablespoon olive oil.
  2. Find where the flap of skin separates from the meat of the breast.  This will be along the cavity (the large whole you’d be putting stuffing in if this were a Thanksgiving Day turkey).  Stick your hand in gently, separating the skin for the breast, while leaving the skin intact and on the bird.  Take your olive  oil mixture, and rub it in between the breast meat and skin.
  3. Put the bird on its side in a roasting pan, and stick in the oven for 25 minutes.
  4. After 25 minutes, flip the bird to the opposite side.  (You can use kitchen gloves, or two large spoons, or tongs.)  Place back in oven for 25 minutes.
  5. After the second round of 25 minutes, roll chicken right side up, so that the breast faces upward.  Cook for 10 more minutes.
  6. Take out of the over, let sit for about five minutes.  If using one oven, stick the potatoes back in (with oven turned off) for a few minutes to reheat while chicken is cooling.

The Greens

  1. While chicken is in the oven, roughly chop the greens.
  2. Right before you pull the chicken out of the oven, heat a pan over medium-high heat on the stove.
  3. As soon as the chicken is out, pour the remaining olive oil in the pan.  Crush garlic and stir for about 1/2 minute.
  4. Stir in mixed greens, until mostly coated with oil.  Pour a very tiny amount of water in to help greens steam.  Salt and pepper if you wish.
  5. Stir, occasionally dripping in water as needed, until greens are dark and wilted.
  6. To make the greens extra yummy, take a spoon or two of the chicken pan juices and stir them in with the greens just before serving.

That’s it.  You’re done!  Cut some meat off that bad boy, get some potatoes and greens, and sit down and eat.

One last note: If you have leftover potatoes and greens, don’t throw away!  The greens will go great in the enchiladas, and the potatoes will add some hardy texture to the soup.  (Neither are required, however.)

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22 thoughts on “The Cheap-Ass Gourmet – Roast Chicken with Roasted Potatoes and Braised Greens

  1. I’ve been making chicken paprikash quite often, which is a Hungarian dish of browned chicken, sauteed onions and garlic, chicken stock, a lot of paprika (and a dash of salt and pepper) and sour cream, usually served with a side of spaetzl (German dumplings) or some other carb (I’ve used rice, noodles, and couscous). AllRecipes gives it great reviews. It’s quick, easy, and delicious, but in my desire to simplify it further I replaced the chicken stock and spaetzl with a cheap can of condensed chicken noodle soup and water.

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  2. For a student, preparing for one, perform the same steps with less potato and less greens, and get some aluminum foil for the chicken. It’ll dry up in the fridge otherwise. Cook more potato and greens later, they don’t keep as well.

    A halogen lamp tabletop socket-powered oven might work if you live in a pigeon-hole, as students occasionally do.

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    • To impinge upon Tod’s perfection: Brine the chicken overnight [saltwater bath]. Now I love roasted chicken, I used to be bigtime meh.

      Also, the trick of cutting greens: stack ’em and roll ’em up first. Takes 2 minutes instead of 20.

      cutting greens

      by Lucille Clifton

      curling them around
      i hold their bodies in obscene embrace
      thinking of everything but kinship.
      collards and kale
      strain against each strange other
      away from my kissmaking hand and
      the iron bedpot.
      the pot is black.
      the cutting board is black,
      my hand,
      and just for a minute
      the greens roll black under the knife,
      and the kitchen twists dark on its spine
      and i taste in my natural appetite
      the bond of live things everywhere.

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      • 2 quick things:

        1. I used to be more of a brined chicken fan than I am now. Brining always makes them a tad over-salted for my taste, but having the breast meat remain juicy always made that small taste inconvenience worth while. Since I’ve learned the “cook on the side” method, however, I don’t brine, since I can get the same moist effect without the saltiness. This is just a matter of taste, obviously.

        2. That’s a lovely poem. Thanks for sharing.

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          • I see what Tod’s saying: he just burned out on the brine taste. But the saltiness is the price of making the chicken more tender and juicy—the salt bath soaking introduces chemical changes in the meat. This is the next level of cooking, where it’s not all about spicing, but about the interactions between ingredients and heat. If you know how long to cook something at what temperature, you’re already a master chef, and barely need any spices.

            So Tod’s saying his “side cooking” method creates the same tenderness as brining, without the saltiness. [I’m also thinking that reducing the salt concentration substantially would be ineffective for tenderizing/juicifying the meat.]

            The other thing is, sometimes you just get sick of the same taste–even of a favorite meal–after year after year of it. For me, I didn’t like roast chicken much, but with brining, now it’s one of my faves. But now after years of brined chicken and it becoming a favorite, I might like it even more without the brining!

            For instance, I grew up on regular normal plain ol’ yellow mustard. I must have been 14 when I discovered Gulden’s Spicy Brown Mustard, then ate little else for decades.

            But recently, I’m just diggin’ on some French’s in all its normal yellowy goodness, you know? All roads lead home.

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            • I’ve never brined meat, though have long heard the praises of it. I rarely cook whole chickens, so if we’re going with just the breast, I can *usually* monitor the doneness properly to avoid drying it out.

              Some of the more complicated brining recipes I’ve seen involve sugar, often brown sugar. It makes sense that reducing the salt content would lessen the effect of the brining; perhaps things like sugar are used to cut the salt in other ways.

              If I have time, I’ll often give my chicken breasts a quick marinade with lemon juice, pepper, and salt. Adds a lot of tenderness and juiciness… just be careful not to overdo it as the acid will start to “cook” the tender meat.

              If you’re interested in knowing more about the “science” of cooking, Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” is a great TV source, if you can stand the campiness. Ruhlman’s “Ratio” is more of an instructional guide than a good book; I’m working my way through that now.

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              • Zactly, Kaz. Alton Brown’s our first choice for internet recipes for his science of cooking. It took awhile to appreciate Alton Brown because he’s not flashy and spicy like an Emeril. But Brownie da bomb.

                BTW, I do want to register here that brined chicken or turkey doesn’t taste overly salty to me, or to most people. It’s its own magic little thing. Try it for yourself once for size–many people get hooked.

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                • If you like AB, you’ll like Ruhlman. I use AB’s recipes a lot, because they give you the basic knowledge to expand upon. Many cookbooks/recipes teach you to make one thing well, but you can’t extrapolate to much more. “Ratio” explains most of the basic ratios that go into a great number of dishes, explains how and why they are what they are, gives ways to modify, but leaves you with enough room to go your own way. For instance, he gives the basics of a bread dough recipe, included recipes for about 15 types of dough, and tells you more broadly what you need to know about dough to do a myriad of another things.


                  Full text transcripts and video replays of all “Good Eats” episodes. Good for finding all the tips he litters the episodes with but don’t alway stick in the brain.

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                  • Yo on that, Kaz. After years of ruining perfectly good and expensive ingredients in search of an emotional masterpiece, it has dawned on me that like every art, the craft must come first.

                    And over the years I have occasionally got inspired-lucky, cheffing up something that matched the best meals that man has ever eaten.

                    The second time I made it, not so much.



                    [New emoticon?]

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  3. I heartily second brining the chicken. Put him in a gallon-sized plastic bag. Add in a lot of salt — 2 to 4 ounces. Maybe a squeeze of lemon juice and a bay leaf. Squeeze out the air, seal up the bag and put him in a big bowl in case there’s a leak. Let him rest that way in the fridge for a couple of hours at least, overnight if you can. Drain him out and pat him dry with a paper towel. Then roast him up like Tod says. He’ll be super tasty and juicy.

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  4. Agree on roast chicken as high quality food with little fuss.

    A few other suggestions.
    Try using a cast iron skillet instead of a roasting pan. Make sure to cut off any visible fatty tissue.
    Don’t ever stuff the bird. It makes the problem of dry breast meat worse.
    Do stuff the skin. Put fresh chopped rosemary under the skin at the least. Ive had good luck with chopped mango, tomato, finely diced onion, garlic, etc.
    Do use rubs and salt. Medium chili is a good choice (ancho, New Mexico, Harissa, etc.)
    Always, always brine the bird.

    There are tons of great roast chicken suggestions in “bird in the oven” cookbook. Look for it in the library.

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  5. Oh yeah, one more thing. Flipping the bird around is dangerous especially if you use a skillet.
    Instead, use high heat (450) for first 20 minutes to sear the skin. Then turn temperature to 375 for remainder of the time. (15-20 minutes per pound. A meat thermometer can help a lot. Aim for 155 degrees in the breast. The thighs will continue to cook from within for another 10 minutes, especially in a skillet.)

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    • I do this, too.

      In many markets, free-range chickens are not available. If not, and there’s a choice between small chickens and those giant over-sized chickens sold as ‘oven roasters’, go for the small chickens. They taste better. While living, they could at least walk around. The ‘oven roasters’ are abominations of nature, with breasts too large to allow them to stand on their own feet.

      I often stuff the cavity of the chicken with an onion, stalk of celery, a handful of fresh thyme, a couple of sage leaves, two or three cloves, and a couple of slices of lemen zest, taken from a lemon with a vegetable peeler; resulting in a delicious chicken also ready for a second (and even third) meal of chicken soup. After the chicken’s finished cooking, deglaze the pan with water, and save this for the soup, too.

      Making chicken soup from a roast chicken turns it into one of the single most economical foods ever; for it provides both two or three meals and helps healing when your fighting off colds and flu.

      After the first meal, extra meat is pulled from the chicken and saved for the soup. Then the carcass goes into the stock pot. Remove the fat from the deglazing liquid and add to the pot, along with an onion quartered, another stalk of celery, a diced carrot, and cover with cold water by an inch or two. If you’ve got a leek, the top tender green parts are also good in the stock pot; carefully wash it to remove sand.

      Bring to a boil slowly, skim the stuff that’s collecting on the top, and then simmer (without boiling) for a couple of hours. Cool slightly, and strain into another pot or large bowl; wash your stock pot. discard the bones and vegetables; you’re not wasting them, they’ve given their goodness to the stock.

      Let the stock sit for a few minutes so that the fat rises to the top and skim most of it off. Return to stock pot, add diced onion and celery, 3 or 4 diced russet (baking) potatoes*, and the reserved chicken meat. Simmer until the potatoes are soft. Scoop a several chunks of potato, and mash them with a fork, stir back in to thicken the broth. Salt to taste now; it will need some salt to avoid tasting bland.

      Because this recipe is thickened with potato instead of an emulsion, the potato will settle, make sure to stir the soup well before serving.

      Leftover soup can be frozen for up to 6 months; make sure you record what it is and the mm/yy you froze it on the package.

      Russet potatoes are crucial here; they break down as they cook in liquid and provide the thickener for the soup.

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  6. I like to brine but rarely do since I forget to plan that far in advance sometimes. If company is coming, sometimes I’ll remember-and I like the chicken both ways: brined and unbrined.

    Now, as to stuffing those herbs/garlic under the skin. Kudos. Also, do it at the intersection of the leg to the body and, if you can, around the drumstick. Nothing better than all that flavor swirling around the thigh meat! I use several cloves and several spigs of garlic. Oregano also is good.

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