My Holiday Chicken Challenge

Believe it or not, I'd never roasted a bird before and I wanted this one to work miracles. Turns out, it kind of did. Here's the story behind the recipe.™
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The Challenge

As a newlywed who often goes to my husband's family's house for holiday dinners, I have grown comfortable in my role as enthusiastic flower- and chocolate-bringing guest. And as a longtime vegetarian (until recently), I had worked out a delicate choreography of passing the meatballs along and filling my plate with salad and sides.

But last spring my husband's grandmother fell very ill, leaving his mother, usually a serious kitchen dynamo, busy caretaking and unable to prepare for the family's Passover seder. So we -- my husband, his sisters, and I -- cooked instead, running to the supermarket for last-minute groceries, simmering pots of soup, and forming matzo balls by the dozen. At some point I offered to roast a chicken. It was perhaps a strange choice, considering that I had only started eating meat again the year before and had attempted to cook it just a handful of times.

Roasting a chicken is supposed to be pretty simple, the kind of predictable, throw-it-in-the-oven dish that home cooks keep in their back pockets for rainy days. When the chicken you are roasting is going to feed your in-laws, however, that's another story. And amid all the doctor calls and visits from hospice nurses, I wanted my family to feel like they were being taken care of, too. I wanted to make something familiar and nurturing. Something that tasted like home.

Maybe that's a lot of pressure to put on a chicken. Still, I gave myself a crash course in roasting, consulting blogs and cookbooks for trussing tips, oven temperature, and cooking times. With hopeful thoughts, I slipped the chicken -- stuffed with bright orange wedges, earthy sage leaves, and hunks of onion -- into the oven and moved on to the next task. I'm not sure how, but despite the stress and sadness we managed to pull everything off. That night we filled the seder table with song, stories, laughter, and tears. Meanwhile, the chicken emerged crisp-skinned, juicy, and perfumed with citrus and herbs -- a small gesture of love and comfort, served with potatoes.

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Leah Koenig enjoys making black bean chili and glazed oatmeal cookies in her cozy (read: tiny!) Brooklyn kitchen, which she shares with her husband, Yoshie Fruchter.

Continued on page 2:  The Recipe


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