It’s time for another installment of Low Carb Cooking Class!
We’ve covered lots of ground so far in this series on very simple and easy cooking for low carbers like myself, who want to eat delicious, homemade low carb foods, but who are not about to spend a fortune on almond or coconut flour, erythritol, coconut aminos, and all sorts of other esoteric ingredients that are absolutely not required in order to put a nutritious and yummy low carb meal together. Here’s the territory we’ve visited so far:
- Stocking your kitchen with low carb staples in order to make all of this a breeze
- How to season food to give things different flavors even when you use the same main proteins and vegetables (i.e., make the same food taste totally different so you don't get bored)
- Tips for cooking in bulk and in advance
- Using salt, heat, and acids to up your cooking game
- Roasting meat and vegetables together in one baking dish -- possibly the easiest way to get real food on the table that doesn’t involve opening a can of tuna or calling for takeout.
To be honest, I feel kind of silly writing blog posts that boil down to, “brown ground meat in a skillet with some onions and zucchini, and add some salt.” I mean, really? There are people who don’t know how to cook low carb like this? But maybe there are. And that’s what this series is all about—low carb cooking that is simple, easy, and above all, practical—the kind of cooking you’ll do all throughout the week, on busy nights when your kids have six different activities going on, or you get home from work and you’re ravenous, and you “don’t know what to make” for dinner.
I have a nice collection of low carb, ketogenic, and Paleo cookbooks, and I love flipping through them for the food porn (and for ideas…food ideas, not porn ideas, haha), but to be honest, I rarely make any of the dishes in them. I have no kids and no boyfriend, so in preparing food for myself, sometimes dinner is as
boring simple as a can of salmon
and a raw green pepper. I think we somehow got this idea that
every meal has to be the stuff of legends and worthy of being posted on
Instagram. (I do not post pictures to Instagram, mostly because I’m a terrible
photographer, but also because no one wants to see pictures of a can of salmon
and a green pepper.)
So, in the interest of keeping things simple yet delicious, today we’re going to cover something that should be a staple of basic cooking for just about everybody, whether they eat low carb or not. It’s time for roasted chicken!
I’m going to expose myself to laughter and ridicule here, but here’s a confession: I was in my early thirties the first time I ever roasted a whole chicken. Oh, sure, drumsticks and thighs? No problem. Boneless breasts on the Foreman grill back in the day, with nary a molecule of added oil in sight? Yep, been there, done that. But it wasn’t until my third decade of life that I did a whole bird at once, and perhaps some of you out there have yet to take the plunge. A roasted chicken atop a colorful nest of vegetables is nutritious, delicious, and looks impressive as heck. And the good news is, it couldn’t be easier.
|Happy chickens make delicious meat.|
If you have the means, do your soul some good and start with a pasture-raised chicken from a local farm. You will pay a lot more for it than for a bird from a big supermarket, but you will know that your chicken enjoyed a life in the fresh air and sunlight, possibly eating some corn and soybeans in its feed, but also doing what chickens do best: foraging and pecking in the grass for bugs, worms, and other creepy-crawly grubs. (Note to people who are new to “real food” – chickens are not vegetarians! That is not a selling point on egg cartons nor on chicken packages. Ask any farmer—chickens are not only omnivores, they are cannibals! They will descend like…well, like vultures, if one of their own succumbs in the field. They happily and mercilessly eat just about anything, including their own.) Chickens raised on small, local farms will also not be plumped up with dextrose solutions and who-knows-what-else. They’ll be smaller, but very likely more flavorful. (As always, though, if super-special hoity-toity farm foods are not within your budget at this time, all hell won’t break loose if you buy a regular ol’ chicken from the regular ol’ store. I’ll still love ya. But keep in mind that food from local farms might not be as expensive as you think.)
Roasted chicken and vegetables is another great one pan meal, except this one requires a baking dish or roasting pan large and deep enough to hold the bird and the veg. (Something like this.) It’s helpful if it comes with a rack, but the rack is not absolutely necessary. You don’t need the rack; you can simply set the chicken directly on top of the vegetables.
Here’s how it works:
Preheat your oven to 350°F/180°C.
Rub the outside of the chicken with olive oil or melted or softened butter. Sprinkle salt and freshly ground pepper all over. (Yes, the freshly ground really does make a difference.) I like to use paprika, too, for the color and flavor, but you can use just about anything you like. Honestly, salt and pepper are all you need, but if you want to bump the flavor up a notch, sage and thyme work wonderfully, as does rosemary. You could also give your chicken a southwestern flair and use chili powder and cumin if you like. You can even loosen the chicken skin and sprinkle some of the seasoning directly into the meat, which will allow the flavor to permeate the meat a little better. If you’re using fresh rosemary or thyme, you can insert a few sprigs here and there between the skin and the meat. Depending on what kind of flavor you’re going for, something else that works is cutting a lemon either in half or into wedges and inserting them into the cavity. This is also great to do with a whole head of garlic – simply cut it in half horizontally (no need to peel it, although you might want to remove some of the outer skin if there’s a lot of it) and put that in the cavity along with the lemon. You’ll be able to eat sweet, roasted, soft garlic cloves with your chicken…YUM! (And yes, I feel kind of skeevy writing the phrase, “insert it into the cavity…” Indeed, you will be putting lemons and garlic into a chicken’s hoo-ha.) To keep things really easy, just use poultry seasoning, or one of my all-time faves -- McCormick's Montreal Chicken blend.
That’s about it for the bird. It’s ready to go into the oven! But what about the vegetables? What kind of vegetables go well with a roast chicken?
Um, just about everything, actually. There are few vegetables that don’t lend themselves to roasting while being basted in the savory chicken juices. Carrots, celery, onions, zucchini, yellow squash, brussels sprouts, radishes, green beans, and fennel all work great. (For fennel, use the bulb and the stalks—yes, you can eat the stalks, just like celery. They’re good raw or cooked). Add some more lemon wedges to the vegetables—roasted lemons are delicious; they lose most of their pucker factor when cooked this way and become savory and just plain yummy.
If you’re on the higher end of low carb and occasionally enjoy sweeter and starchier vegetables, ones that would be dynamite here are parsnips, wedges of sweet or white potatoes, beets, or butternut squash. Whatever vegetables you use, try to cut them into similar sized pieces so they cook evenly. To be honest, though, it’s really hard to screw this up. Some pieces might be less well done, and others will be brown and tender and insanely delicious, and that’s totally fine.
To save yourself from having to wash an extra bowl, after cutting the vegetables, prepare them right in the roasting pan. Drizzle with a bit of olive or avocado oil and sprinkle generously with the same seasonings you’re using on the bird. You don’t need all that much oil, though; the vegetables are going to get plenty of yummy fat and savory goodness just by way of being under the chicken as it cooks.
Final step: set the rack in the pan, and the chicken on the rack. Or if not using a rack, simply set the chicken directly on top of the vegetables. Let the whole shebang bake for about an hour, and it's done!
Here’s how it looks before it goes in the oven. I don’t have an “after” pic, which would obviously be way more appealing. (Sorry…I took this picture a while ago, long before I was blogging about low carb cooking, and it honestly didn’t even occur to me to capture the final product.)
If you look closely, you’ll see that some of the carrots are yellow or purple. I used the “carrots of many colors” from Trader Joe’s. These things are a trip. They actually do have slightly different flavors, with the yellow ones being the most different from the others. (The yellow ones have a pleasant “earthy” flavor, reminiscent of parsnips and beets.) And get this…the purple ones are actually orange or yellow on the inside. It’s wild -- check it out! Purple carrots also have a higher antioxidant content than the other colors do.
You are not going straight to low carb hell if you eat carrots.
As for making a sauce or gravy, they’re really not necessary. The chicken will be so moist and the vegetables will have basted themselves in the delicious chicken juices, so you won’t need anything extra at all.
And what to do when you’re finished with the chicken? Use the carcass for homemade stock! They don’t call this Jewish penicillin for nothin’. If you’re going to make stock, get a couple extra pairs of chicken feet from your farmer, or see if a local butcher will sell you backs & necks--the pieces with lots of bones and cartilage. It’s not absolutely necessary to add these to a batch of stock, but it does lend just a little more gelatin goodness. (The farm I work at sells chicken feet in bags of 4 for just two dollars. It’s one of the best bargains there is, except for $5 for a quart of lard from the happiest, woods-foraging pigs there are. We also sell chicken heads, at 4 for just one dollar. Yes, the really hardcore traditional cooks use the heads in stock…)
Well, that’s about it for this one. Like I said: couldn’t be simpler. Chicken and vegetables, seasoning, one pan, roast for an hour, and serve your happy, hungry family or your happy, hungry self. Bon appétit!
Disclaimer: Amy Berger, MS, CNS, NTP, is not a physician and Tuit Nutrition, LLC, is not a medical practice. The information contained on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical condition and is not to be used as a substitute for the care and guidance of a physician. Links in this post and all others may direct you to amazon.com, where I will receive a small amount of the purchase price of any items you buy through my affiliate links.