I can’t believe I’m about to write this…but…winter hasn’t been that bad?? “EASY FOR YOU TO SAY!” scream all the Haligonians and our pals on the west coast of the island who got pummelled Day After Tomorrow style. To that I will say, our hearts are with you! And goddamn, we’ve been there so I’m relishing the well-deserved break. It’s amazing how cheerful it is to walk around in sub-zero temps when you can do it on a sidewalk and not in the middle of the road. A BIG thank you to St. John’s city council for getting some of your collective shit together! And now for the love and honour can we please talk about your demolition policy? I won’t be bringing you a plate of cookies for that stunt. Anyway, I also finally broke down and bought a winter jacket that covers my bum. Between that and a Christmas vacation spent in softpants while inventing martinis, I have solved winter.
So, with high hopes and crossed fingers, I’m going to come out and say it. We’ve seen the worst of it. In the likely event of a savage storm in April, spring is still in the air and not even Sheila’s Brush can stop it. A storm in April is laced with a bit more hope than a storm in December, am I right? (I could be wrong. St. John’s could be a mess right now, I’m not even there. I’m on tour and writing this from a hotel room in Marystown, pantlessly drinking pinot grigio and watching a marathon of 19 Kids and Counting. Before you judge me, let me explain that there’s a dart tournament happening at the hotel so I’m not responsible for my actions. It’s either put on cheap aftershave and drink Coors Light in the hallway, or barricade myself in my room. And come ON, Jessa’s getting married and she’s NEVER EVEN BEEN KISSED so this is kind of a big deal. As a side-side note, if the Duggars watched We Need to Talk About Kevin like I just did on Netflix, I’m pretty sure their show would have been called One Kid and We Are Fucking DONE.)
However, comfort food season? Nowhere near over! It’s no secret to anyone that I love a roast chicken. A roast chicken dinner on a Sunday is the number one reason I could never be a vegetarian. Word on the street is that a whole roast cauliflower is now a thing for a veggie Sunday roast. Which is excellent! And a great idea for a meat-eater on a weekday! But, with nothing but the utmost respect for my vegetarian and vegan pals, I would probably have Ted Cruz and his dad over for tea and cakes before I’d bake a cauliflower for my Sunday Roast.
(Ok, ok, all jokes aside, this looks kinda good.)
This recipe is my offering for St. John’s Winter-Spring. Depending on the mood of the weather gods, this shoulder season can last anywhere from March to June. If we’re lucky, winter-spring will be over by April, just in time to start cooking chickens on the barbecue while drinking beers on the back deck. In the meantime, this recipe still falls in the category of comfort food, but will seriously make your house smell like a place where no shovelling is required. Winter-spring. Sprinter? Wring? Yeah, the last one seems more fitting.
Moroccan Roast Chicken with Harissa Potatoes
Preheat oven to 375˚F.
Combine the following spices with 4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil: 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp sweet paprika, 1/2 tsp chilli flakes, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp salt. Rub this mixture all over a whole chicken, including the inner cavity. Stuff with a handful of fresh mint leaves and 4 or 5 preserved lemons. Place in a roasting pan with 4 whole peeled cloves of garlic and 1 roughly chopped onion. Fill roasting pan with 1 cup water and half a bottle of white wine, taking care not to pour over the chicken, and just in the side of the pan. Cover and cook chicken for one hour. Remove from oven, baste, and return to oven uncovered for another half hour until chicken is cooked through and skin is crispy, adding more water to the pan for the last half hour if juices are evaporating too quickly. When chicken is done, move to a plate and let rest. Mash the onions and garlic in the bottom of the roaster with a fork or potato masher and bring to a boil with the drippings over the stove to make a sauce. Strain through a fine mesh sieve if you like, but that’s optional.
For the potatoes: Clean a 2-pound bag of baby red potatoes and cut them in half. Toss potatoes with 1 tbsp harissa, 1 tbsp sesame seeds, 3 tbsp olive oil, and the juice of half a lemon. Season with salt and pepper. Bake in the oven with the chicken for the last half hour. Give them a good toss and return to oven for another 15 minutes while chicken is resting. Sprinkle with more lemon juice to taste before serving.
You’ve probably never put fresh mint in a chicken before, and neither did I until I found a bunch in my fridge that needed to be used and did it on a whim. It works! You’ll only get the slightest hint of it, but it goes beautifully with the salty citrus from the preserved lemons and the Moroccan(ish) spices. I’m not even sure if this recipe qualifies as Moroccan; more than a few would argue that cooking a chicken in wine for an hour before roasting it isn’t right at all (you could just use water if you like, hahaha). But just do it for the sauce. Sweet mother, the sauce.
If you can’t find preserved lemons, don’t sweat it. Regular will do just fine. Here’s a neat Jamie Oliver trick: parboil a large lemon or a couple of smaller ones for five minutes and then prick them a few times with a knife before stuffing them in the cavity. It’s like a hot lemon juice flavour bomb for your chicken. This may be my kitchen safety paranoia soaring to new heights, but be careful when handling the hot lemon. I hold it with a pair of tongs and prick the lemon at a bit of a distance. I can’t think of anything worse than boiling lemon juice in my eye. Well, maybe Stephen Harper winning the next election. I would take hot lemon juice in the cornea before I’d see that happen. I’m looking at you, Alberta. With my one good eye.
Serve up the chicken and potatoes with the sauce and a sprinkling of cilantro if you like. Very easy, very good.
Kind of like the summer we’re all hoping for.