This morning we woke up to the first real snow of the year––good thing I’d purchased a chicken. The following is a recipe I’ve been tweaking each winter when the snow flies; this year I added a cup of dry lentils to the rice. Below, you’ll find a slide show I made several years ago after visiting friends one snowy winter in Colorado. My friend’s husband demonstrated to me how to make his specialty: Clay Pot Chicken.
Roasting chickens is my favorite way of using my clay pot, and it’s a technique that has been traced back to Roman times. My recipe varies according the the ingredients found in my fridge. You can mix brussels sprouts or cherry tomatoes into the rice before roast. Perhaps you’d prefer a cajun rub to the rosemary one I used.
Many use an all-clay unglazed Romertopf roaster. According to Saveur. com, the Romertopf was invented by a German and is modeled on an ancient Etruscan design. Today, they are produced in Mexico with the same mixture of clays as the originals.
I use a 4 1/2 quart clay roaster at with a glazed bottom and unglazed lid that I purchased locally. The moisture absorbed in the large domed lid distributed moist heat producing a tender, evenly cooked, golden bird. The aesthetics of cooking in a natural, earthen element are pleasing; a beautiful oven-to-table serving dish.
Not only does the snow inspire my recipes, it also inspires my characters. My work in progress, THE MAIDEN TOWER, has a character who’d just left Idaho and moved to Key West. This morning as I watched the snow fall, I tunneled into two of my “maidens”, Linnea and Delphina, as they talked about snow:
“So back to snow,” I say, feeling a pang of sorrow for my twin. “How does it smell?”
She pinches her nose. “It’s hard to articulate. I can describe the feelings I get when it snows—content, safe, cozy. And what snow makes me want to eat—fondue, meaty stews, sticky pudding—foods that are unappealing to me down here. But I can’t explain the smell.” She shrugs. “Snow is so beautiful, and yet it smells like nothing.”
She chews at a cuticle on the side of her forefinger, a puzzled look on her face. “Not everything that’s beautiful in nature has a smell. Unless you’d consider nothingness a smell.”
“Aha! You’ve combed the country searching for a place that suits you, and all you’re looking for is nothing? That’s a healthy, Zen approach to life.”
Linnea’s eyes glaze over, and when she speaks, it’s in a hushed voice. “When it snows, it’s always a miracle. There’s a stillness, a sanctity in the white space that surrounds me.” She wraps her arms around her midriff and shivers. “I snuggle deep inside myself, and drift. The landscape’s a blank page and its beauty is experienced in its nothingness. That nothingness, Delphina, is my chapel. What, to me, is holy.”
(Speaking of holy, BTW, the holy grail of earthenware cookery: Never put a clay pot in a preheated oven; it may crack. As well, on soak the elements of your pot that are UNGLAZED.)
Recipe: Clay Pot Chicken & Rice
- 1, 4 1/2 quart, clay pot cooker
- 2 cups long cook rice (a rice that cooks in 30-45 minutes)
- 1 cup (uncooked) brown lentils
- Specified amount* of liquid such as wine, stock, water or a combination (see critical notes below)
- 1 1/2 cups sliced baby bella mushrooms
- 1 cup carrots cut into 1/2 inch coins
- 1, 4-5 pound, whole roasting chicken
- 2 tablespoons dry, crushed rosemary
- 1 teaspoon-1 tablespoon fresh ground pepper
- 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, sliced into thin pieces
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 medium sized yellow onion, peeled but left whole**
- Soak unglazed clay according to manufacturers directions, apx. 15 minutes.
- Combine rice, liquid, mushrooms, carrots, and brussels sprouts at bottom of pot. Combine rosemary, salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper (adding additional pepper to taste) and rub inside chicken cavity. Lift up chicken skin and rub under skin, then over the exterior skin. Stick pieces of butter under skin over breast. Place chicken over rice mixture.
- Place bay leaf in back of cavity and stuff with onion; tie chicken legs together with string or kitchen twine.
- Cover pot with lid and place on middle rack of a cold oven. Turn on heat to 450 degrees and cook 1 1/2- 2 1/2 hours; or until chicken juices run clear when thigh is pierced. (My 4 3/4 pound chicken took exactly 1 1/2 hours to roast to perfection. Take care not to overcook.)
- Remove onion, chop and stir into rice. Pour residual juices from cavity onto a serving platter. Carve chicken and serve with juices and rice mixture. (Note: leftovers make a marvelous chicken and rice soup.)
*Whatever rice you use; halve the liquid requirement on packaging. (2 cups of the rice I used called for 4 1/2 cups of liquid, therefore I only used 2 1/4 cups, but since lentils need water, as well, I used 3 cups total liquid–2 cups stock and 1 cup white wine.)
**Onion will remain firm through cooking. Feel free to cut into pieces and stir into rice prior to cooking, or omit altogether.
Time to soak clay: 15 minutes
Active Time: 20 minutes
Roast Time: 90-120 minutes
Number of servings (yield): 4-6 servings
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