Monday, February 5, 2018

Roasted Lemon-Fennel Spatchcocked Chicken #FoodieReads

Our Sunday family hikes have given my reading a boost. We hike up a mountain, then - while the boys fly their glider or do other testosterone-y things - I plunk down and read a book in the shade.

I can usually get through a nice chunk before we head back down the mountain. Yesterday, at the top of Gilson Gap, I started The Last Van Gogh by Alyson Richman.* I noticed this on my bookshelf before we headed out and I decided to give it a go. I really had no idea how much food there was going to be in it. What a delicious read!
On the Page
This is a historical fiction - one of my favorite genres, especially when there's food involved - about the relationship between Vincent Van Gogh and Marguerite Gachet, daughter of Van Gogh's doctor in Auvers-sur-Oise. We read the tale from Marguerite's point of view.

Set in France, in the early 1800s, the majority of the book takes place during the last few months of Van Gogh's life. Van Gogh was in Auvers-sur-Oise, battling his addiction to absinthe and painting prolifically while under the care of Dr. Gachet. The painting, above, is the first portrait he did of Marguerite. I thoroughly enjoyed how the author crafted her novel around actual people and actual paintings that exist of those people. Whether they actually had an illicit affair, I don't know, but it made for an interesting read as she explored her sexuality with the fragile yet passionate artist.

I won't be spoiling the book too much by sharing that Marguerite is under her father's oppressive thumb. I understand that gender roles were much more traditional in the 19th century, but since her mother's death, Marguerite has been both cook and maid for her father and her brother. And, in that role, she is tasked with preparing the meals when her father invites Vincent to lunch or dinner.

The first meal she prepares for Vincent is roasted chicken. "I had spent the early part of the morning preparing my favorite dishes. ...I handpicked the chicken from Armel, the butcher, insisting that ti Have the largest, juiciest one from that morning's slaughter. ...The entire house now smelled of my crisp roasted chicken.... I could not help but smile as I emerged from the kitchen with the large platter in my arms" (pp. 52-53).

On the Plate
Roasting a chicken is not for the faint of heart. I mean, anyone can stick a whole chicken in the oven and roast it till it's not raw. But, seriously, the number of mediocre roasted chickens I've made is embarrassing. And there is nothing worse than dried out chicken breasts, right?

So, when I read about a technique that splits the chicken and flattens it, I knew I could marinate it easily and roast it to (near) perfection. I've tested it out a few times and it has changed my mind about roasted chicken. And - it's so easy - I will certainly add this to our dinner menu rotation. I can imagine plating this golden brown chicken on bright turquoise platters in Gachet's garden!

  • 1 whole 4-pound chicken
  • 4 to 5 cloves whole garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 T fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1/2 t fennel pollen
  • olive oil
  • juice from 2 organic lemons
  • lemon slices
  • freshly ground salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thickly sliced

Spatchcock It
Place chicken on a cutting board, breast side down. With a sturdy pair of kitchen shears, cut along one side of the backbone, starting at thigh end. Turn chicken around and cut along other side. You can discard the backbone or save it for stock. Spread the chicken on a flat surface and press firmly on breastbone to flatten it.

Rub It
Rub the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle it liberally with  salt and pepper. Massage the rosemary, garlic, and fennel pollen into the skin. Pour the juice from 1 lemon over the top. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before roasting.

Roast It
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place the spatchcocked chicken flat in a roasting dish. Drizzle with the remaining lemon juice. Scatter fennel pieces and lemon slices around the chicken.

Roast chicken for 40 minutes. Drizzle the chicken with olive oil and return to the oven. Roast for another 30 to 35 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the skin is browned and crispy.

Transfer chicken to a cutting board and let rest 10 minutes before cutting. I served my chicken with barely blanched asparagus and a crisp fennel slaw.

You'll be seeing my thoughts on this pairing later this month for the February #Winophiles event, but I poured Famille Bougrier's Pure Loire Rosé d'Anjou 2016 with the chicken...and it was sublime.

*This blog currently has a partnership with in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to and search for the item of your choice.

Here's what everyone else read in February 2018: here.

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