I think I have mentioned it before (yup, I have - just checked), but there was a lucky day once when I was home from college on winter break when I got to cook with the Norwegian food writer, cook, and TV personality Andreas Viestad. Ok, it’s not Anthony Bourdain or Jamie Oliver, but for me it was pretty dang close. Even better, actually, being the cooking and writing obsessed Scandophile that I am.
He was giving a book talk and signing at our church, accompanied by a cooking demo. Our family friend and cookbook author Bea Ojakangas recruited my mother and me along with another friend to help with the food preparation.
I’m pretty sure, when it comes down to it, we were asked there more for our Norwegian language skills than our cooking skills, but I wasn’t concerned, I still felt special. From the experience I took away some cooking pointers, a minor crush, and a signed copy of Viestad’s cookbook.
It’s a beautiful book. One I have loved as much for the beautiful landscape pictures that reminded me of all my childhood summers in Norway as for the simple, flavorful recipes. After break, I brought the book back to share with my college housemates as I excitedly told them about getting to cook with the cute Norwegian chef. Soon, everyone in our house – boys and girls alike – referred to Viestad as the “cute Norwegian chef” rather than by name, and a number of recipes from his book had become regulars in the rotation of our household meals (we cooked for each other and ate together 5 nights a week).
This roast chicken is the one that has had the most staying power of all. It is the dish the three of us who were bio majors decided to make when the chair of the biology department came over for dinner. It is the dish I’ve made often for groups of friends when we needed something that would fill our bellies with the feeling of home. It has become one of my mother’s favorite dishes too, and in the past 10 or so years has been on the menu many a time when I was visiting home.
Besides a chicken rubbed with plain old salt and pepper and seared in the oven at a blistering 450 or 500F until crackling and sputtering, this may be my favorite roast chicken recipe, though it’s hard to play favorites with something as lovable as roast chicken.
What’s funny is, every single time I have made this chicken, something about the process has felt mildly disastrous. You are, for instance, instructed to smear the uncooked bird with room temperature dill butter, rubbing the butter about and tucking it under the skin. Warm butter does not like to be rubbed against cold skin. It will melt all over your fingers, sticking to your hands and following them like a begging puppy while refusing to spread across the bird. No matter, it somehow works out.
Then you stuff the bird with a quartered lemon and a bunch of dill. I can never manage to cram in the whole lemon plus the large bunch of dill called for, so I punt it, fitting in as much as I can and letting the rest stick out or fall into the roasting pan. It turns out, I’m afraid, that feathery dill in the hot air of the oven, unprotected by a shield of chicken, has a tendency to turn into a smoldering bunch of smoke weed. But, it’s ok. Seriously. After a bit you toss in the leeks, the potatoes, and some chicken stock, and things settle down. I do recommend only using the a handful of dill and fitting it all inside the chicken, if possible, though.
There’s also the matter of turning the bird partway through the cooking process. I don’t know about you, but I always panic when I have to flip a whole, partially roasted bird be it chicken, duck, or turkey. And, perhaps it’s not a necessary step, but I know the end product is so good, I haven’t dared to deviate.
The result, the chicken that has me consistently coming back for more, the dish that erases any memory of the fact that it felt like a bit of a production to get it to the table, is irresistibly juicy meat, lightly perfumed with dill, under skin as thin, crisp, and golden as a crunchy fall leaf.
Surrounding the chicken are tender pieces of roasted potato, leek, and garlic, bathed in melted dill butter and chicken juices. Around the edges, where they are exposed to the most heat, the vegetables caramelize and taste the way mahogany looks, deeply nutty brown, rich, and savory-sweet with a touch of lemon. The dill, leeks, and lemon together are an inspired trio, the three tenors of food, the leek and dill sharing light flavors of anise and grass, and a gentle citrus flavor that the lemon brings out.
It’s glorious. And, it can be a perfect dish for any time of year really, the dill making it feel fresh and herbal while the chicken feels warm and hearty. And it has the potential to make you famous amongst all your social circle. You may get even more points if you mention that you got the recipe from a cute Norwegian chef. It would be mostly true, right?
Roasted Chicken with Dill and Leeks (adapted from Kitchen of Light by Andreas Viestad) (serves 4-6)
- 1 approximately 4 lb. chicken
- 4 Tbs. salted butter, at room temp.
- about 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill, plus another handful of dill sprigs
- 1 lemon, quartered
- about 5 medium leeks, washed well, cut in half lengthwise, and sliced into 1-inch chunks
- about 1 lb. small potatoes, cut into 1-inch thick slices
- 8 whole garlic cloves, skin on
- 3 cups chicken stock
- salt and pepper
- Preheat your oven to 425F. In a smallish bowl, stir together the butter and the half cup of dill. Salt and pepper the chicken, then rub it with the dill butter, gently loosening the skin up from the breast and around the rest of the bird, and tucking pats of dill butter underneath.
- Stuff the lemon and the remaining handful of dill inside the chicken. Then, place the chicken on a v-shaped rack in a roasting pan (if you don’t have one, just place it right into the roasting pan), breast side up. Roast the chicken for about 20 minutes. Take the chicken and pan out of the oven. Flip the chicken and transfer it directly into the pan, removing the v-shaped rack. Put the leeks, potatoes, and garlic cloves into the roasting pan around the chicken, then pour the stock all over the vegetables.
- Return the pan to the oven and continue roasting for another 40-50 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. (You can test this by piercing the chicken in the thickest part of the thigh. If the juices run clear, it’s done.) Remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes.
- In the meantime, spear a potato to make sure it is fully cooked. If it is not quite done, return the pan with the vegetables to the oven for the time while the chicken is resting. If they are done, well, excellent, you’re ready to go!
- Discard the lemon and the dill from the inside the chicken. Squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins. Carve the chicken, and serve accompanied by the roast vegetables (squeeze some lemon juice over them, if desired), plus a green vegetable of sorts or a salad.