If a piece of furniture could have a passport, ours would be a great traveler. Our table has moved with us to five countries and has undergone many moves. If he was a child, he might need therapy. Ironically, it provided my family with all kinds of therapies needed to make our globetrotting lives easier. It gave us a gathering place and a safe haven, grounding us and strengthening our family traditions, while connecting us to new friends and our adopted cultures. When people ask me where I feel at home, I answer that it’s where my kitchen table is.
We bought our farmhouse style table over 20 years ago in Ain, France, near the western border of Switzerland, where we lived at the time. It was the first piece of furniture my husband and I bought together, and probably the best. Rustic and massively constructed from reclaimed oak, it reflected the charm and character of our 18th century Swiss farmhouse while providing a strong core for family and social life centered around food, friends and entertainment. It was warm and intimate enough for two and large enough to accommodate 12 people. It was a place for morning coffee, girlfriend chats, home office necessities, and lively dinner parties. When our children entered the picture, it provided a sturdy, forgiving canvas for homework, crafts, and snack time – nicks, scratches, and spills are welcome.
Today, our table resides in California, where it continues to be the center of our family and social life. The last move we made was local, an invisible point on the world map. But even then, we didn’t stray from our usual move-in ritual, a tradition born of practice: the kitchen table was the first piece of furniture put in place. Then, amidst the unboxing and the boxes, I prepared a simple and comforting roast chicken dinner — a nutritious, timeless, and reassuring meal that we shared at our table.
There’s nothing more comforting than the aroma of roast chicken. Cooking whole poultry is quite simple and can be done in the oven or on a grill. For a complete and almost effortless meal, arrange the chicken over the chopped root vegetables in the pan and let the bird baste the vegetables with its juices. While your dinner is getting ready, you can do all the other things that need to be done, like unpacking a new house.
Single Roast Chicken
For 4 to 6 people
1 (4 pounds) whole chicken, giblets removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
4 large garlic cloves, crushed but still intact (optional)
A handful of fresh thyme or rosemary sprigs (optional)
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Rinse and dry the chicken outside and inside the cavity with paper towels. Rub chicken skin all over with olive oil. Generously season the chicken outside and inside the cavity with salt and black pepper. Add the garlic and sprigs of thyme or rosemary to the cavity.
Place the chicken in a large cast iron skillet or grill pan. Roast in the oven or broil over indirect medium-high heat with the lid closed, until the juices run clear when a knife is inserted into the thigh and the temperature registers 165 degrees without touching the bone, about 1 hour and a quarter.
Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and cover with foil. Let stand 15 minutes. Carve the chicken and serve with any juices.
Optional: To include vegetables, start with 1 ½ pounds of your favorite hearty vegetables in the pan, such as onions, carrots, cauliflower, and sweet potatoes. Cut the vegetables into wedges or large chunks and toss with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and black pepper. Spread in the pan (or dripping pan), then nest the chicken in the center of the vegetables. Stir the vegetables once or twice during cooking to coat them with the cooking juices.
Lynda Balslev is a San Francisco Bay Area cookbook author, food and travel writer, and recipe creator.