Last night I roasted a chicken in black truffle butter for no reason other than it was Monday, and Mondays often call for little indulgences. And what a Monday it was! By the time dinner was served we were all so frazzled that nothing but good comfort food would do – and by comfort food I mean mounds of tender, juicy chicken, studded with earthy truffle pieces, swimming in a pool of butter. I roasted potatoes in the same pan so they could absorb all the decadent flavours, and served them alongside a simple green salad, Nigella-style, which is to say everything was pulled apart at the table and devoured greedily and unpretentiously. It was the perfect busy weeknight meal, and before you say, “Wait! There’s never enough time to roast a whole chicken on a weeknight!” let me tell you about this recipe.
Evenings in our house are a rush-hour blur of homework, violin lessons, work wrap-ups and last minute emails, so I’m always looking for ways to make elegant dishes accessible on those busy nights. I’m not necessarily talking about “shortcuts,” as that implies a reduction in quality, but rather, finding little tricks that can take some of the work out of what I’m cooking. Methods that work on their own so that I don’t have to. Things like cooking a whole chicken at the beginning of the week in order to use the leftovers for days afterwards in quick casseroles, stews and soups. (From one chicken I will get three meals for my family of four.) Or dry-brining, which transforms that same simple chicken into a tender, succulent delicacy. Dry-brining is a process by which meat is seasoned with its own juices. By salting and seasoning the meat hours before cooking, the liquid is drawn to the surface where it dissolves the salt. Then, as the meat rests, all those briny juices are reabsorbed, pulling the flavour deep into the meat. Essentially it seasons the meat from within. Cooking a chicken this way takes just a bit of forethought, but almost no work. I season the chicken with the dry-brine as soon as I bring it home from the market, while I am prepping and sorting through all the other groceries. Then, a day or two later, when I get home from work, the chicken is prepared and seasoned and ready for the oven. It roasts for just over an hour, and since the oven handles all the work, the only thing left to do is relax with a glass of wine, put on a record and perhaps throw together a quick salad.
A note on buying truffle butter. Be sure to read the ingredients when selecting a truffle butter. Many don’t even contain truffles, but rather a chemical concoction of artificial flavours. The butter should contain only two or three ingredients: cream, black truffles and sometimes an emulsifier to keep the two from separating. When you open the butter it should have a strong, deep, pungent aroma of truffles, and be freckled with plenty of black truffle pieces throughout.
Black Truffle Butter Chicken
By dry-brining the chicken the flavour of the truffles penetrates deep into the meat, seasoning the inside as well as the outside.
1 (4-5 pounds/ 2kg) free-range chicken
2 TBSP good quality black truffle butter, room temperature
6 – 8 sprigs fresh thyme, divided
2 large shallots, peeled and halved
3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
15 small white potatoes, washed
1 TBSP olive oil
fresh ground black pepper
Remove the thyme leaves from half of the sprigs and chop. Set the remaining thyme aside.
In a small bowl, stir together the truffle butter and the chopped thyme. Add 1/4 tsp of ground pepper and 1 tsp salt (if your truffle butter is salted, decrease the salt to 1/2 tsp), and mix well.
Rinse the chicken inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper into the cavity. Place the shallots, garlic and remaining thyme sprigs into the cavity. Gently separate the skin from the breast. I use the back of a spoon to create a pocket between the meat and the skin. Using the same spoon, slip half of the butter mixture between the skin and the breast meat and massage to spread the butter evenly over the meat. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Rub the outside of the chicken thoroughly with the remaining butter mixture. Place the chicken in a roasting pan, cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to 48 hours.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C). Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and uncover while the oven is heating.
Cut the potatoes in half and place in a large bowl. Toss with the olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Place the potatoes cut side down around the chicken in the pan. Place the chicken in the oven and roast for 30 minutes. Turn the heat down to 375 F (190 C) and continue roasting for 35-45 minutes, until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 170 F (77 C). Remove from the oven and cover with foil. Let the chicken rest for 20 minutes before carving.
To serve, carve the chicken and place on a platter with the potatoes. Drizzle the pan juices over the cut meat.