The delicious root of the matter: Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables

by Terry B on November 9, 2011

Roasting chicken, sweet potatoes, parsnips, onions, garlic and rosemary together melds flavors beautifully in this one-pan meal. Recipe below.

This time of year brings a certain amount of angst for those trying to eat locally, seasonally and sustainably. Pickings are getting slim at farmers markets, especially here in the Midwest. The land is hunkering down for a long, cold winter, and summer’s produce bounty is receding in the rear view mirror. So what do we eat?

To answer this question, we need to look back to a time when eating locally, seasonally and sustainably was just called eating. For most of our grandparents (and certainly our great-grandparents), if the fruits and vegetables they ate didn’t come from their own gardens, they came from family farms not far from where they lived. To have produce to eat when the snows came, they would do a couple of things.

First, they would can. A lot. Mason jars full of preserved summer fruits and vegetables would line pantry and basement shelves, ready to give nourishment and a taste of warm days. For many households, this practice fell by the wayside with the coming of commercially produced canned goods. My grandmother, who had grown up on a farm, left canning behind when she headed for the bright lights of St. Louis. But Marion has vivid childhood memories of family trips to nearby farms, followed by days of her mother tending boiling pots in an un-air-conditioned kitchen—followed later still by delicious jars of fruit in the dead of winter. Canning is enjoying a resurgence these days, thanks in part to the desire to eat locally year ’round.

And then there are root vegetables. So named because you eat the root or root tuber part of the plant, these vegetables often keep well for long periods of time, especially in cool places with steady humidity. Our great-grandparents sometimes had actual root cellars, dug into the ground below the freezing line, that stayed cool all year long. Sometimes, they were free-standing structures with sheds on top. Other times, it might be a corner of a basement (many older homes had basements with dirt floors, helping to maintain the proper humidity levels).

Even if you don’t have a root cellar, root vegetables are delicious, healthy and often locally grown. Carrots, parsnips, turnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, beets and more all provide loads of flavor and nutritional value. And they deliver variety to autumn and winter meals. Add them to soups and stews. Mash a parsnip with potatoes for added sweetness and nutrition. Roast root vegetables with herbs, individually or in a mix, as a side. Or, as I did here, with chicken as a one-pan meal. The juices of the chicken temper the natural sweetness of the parsnips and sweet potatoes, giving them a nice, rich umami quality, and the onion, garlic and rosemary flavor everything.

Looking for more ways to cook with root vegetables? Try Marion’s Potato Gnocchi with Roasted Root Vegetables, a delicious vegetarian main course, or my Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Shallots (and garlic, rosemary and cayenne pepper) or Potato Root Vegetable Mash-up with potatoes, sweet potatoes and parsnips.

Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables
Serves 2, with possible leftovers

1 medium sweet potato (about 2 cups when peeled and cubed)
2 large parsnips (about 1-1/2 to 2 cups when peeled and cubed)
1 teaspoon water
1 medium onion
4 chicken thighs (or drumsticks or a mix)
olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, roughly chopped (or 1 tablespoon dried)
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Peel the sweet potato and parsnip and cut into bite-sized chunks. Place in a microwave-safe lidded container with water. Microwave, with the lid slightly ajar or vent opened, for about 2 minutes. This will soften them slightly so they’ll be tender when everything is done roasting. Peel the onion, halve it lengthwise, then quarter the halves to produce eight big chunks.

Lightly oil the inside of a 9×13 glass baking dish or roasting pan. Trim the chicken of excess fat, pat dry with paper towels and season on all sides with salt and pepper. Arrange in the baking dish.

In a large bowl, gently toss the sweet potato, parsnip, onion and garlic with olive oil, salt and pepper. Take care not to rough up the onions and break them apart too much. The sweet potatoes will soak up oil, so use a slightly generous hand. Whatever you do, you won’t achieve an oily gloss on them. Don’t worry about it; the oil will still keep them from burning.

Arrange the root vegetable mixture around the chicken in the baking dish, making it a single layer as much as possible. Make sure nothing is covering the chicken, so that it can brown properly.

Roast on the center rack in the oven for 45 to 55 minutes or until chicken is golden brown and has an internal temperature of at least 165ºF. Baste chicken and vegetables with pan juices after 30 minutes or so, carefully tipping the pan to collect juices in one corner, if necessary. Baste every 15 minutes after that.

When chicken and vegetables are done, remove from oven and let rest in the baking dish for about 5 minutes before serving.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Valentina November 10, 2011 at 1:55 am

i’m loving using root vegetables right now. they make for the best comfort food! this combination of flavors sounds divine!

kitchenriffs November 10, 2011 at 9:41 pm

I love roast vegetables of all kind, root vegetables in particular. In fact, in an hour or two I’ll be roasting sweet potatoes. When it comes to roasting chicken, I’ve been of the high temperature school for some time. But I’ve been wondering if I’ve been missing something, so I’m thinking about switching. It’ll be awhile before I get to this – next poultry to be roasted will be a turkey in a couple of weeks – but I’ve been mulling over chicken roasting options lately, and may take a peek at this post again when I have a chicken in the refrigerator.

Terry B November 11, 2011 at 9:16 pm

Thanks, Valentina!

Kitchenriffs—we’ve used high-temperature roasting of chicken in the past too. I think it works particularly well with whole birds. I think you could easily go 400ºF on this and shorten the roasting time. Higher than that might scorch the vegetables, though.

Meg November 11, 2011 at 11:39 pm

Looks delicious. We’re starting to hunker down in New England, too, and I’m totally intrigued by canning.

Deana Allary November 12, 2011 at 7:57 pm

Try this recipe in a pressure cooker.

Terry B November 12, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Thanks, Meg! I keep feeling like I should try canning, but just don’t for whatever reason.

Deana, I think all the flavors would blend nicely in a pressure cooker, but you wouldn’t get the browning that roasting gives you. You would probably end up with more of a stew, I’m guessing.

angela@spinachtiger November 14, 2011 at 12:46 am

A healthy, beautiful winter dish. I love root vegetables and it’s getting hard in Nashville too as our market is slim with pickings. I don’t purchase 100% local but as much as I can.

altadenahiker November 14, 2011 at 3:52 pm

You know, as a child I didn’t like the taste of any root veg save the potato. I think because the flavor is strong and, well, earthy. But I love them now.

Giovanni Gutierrez November 15, 2011 at 1:19 am

I love going back to the “roots!” Eating locally grown, and fresh food should be the way it is. You can taste the difference between the finest home grown foods from the stuff you get out of a can at Walmart.

This recipe looks great too! Root vegetables have great substance and compliment so many dishes.

Zach November 16, 2011 at 9:48 pm

This recipe sounds great! I think I’m going to pick up some veg and try it tonight. One quick question, though: Would it be appropriate to do a quick sear on the skin so that it gets nice and crisp before roasting?

Terry B November 16, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Everyone, I’ve been remiss in keeping up with comments here. Sorry.

Thanks, Angela! Hope you’re staying warm in Nashville.

Altadenahiker—And the unfortunate thing is that far too many of us hang on to our childhood taste bud memories. I would encourage everyone to try things they didn’t like as a kid. I only in the last few years figured out that I now like beets.

Giovanni, substance is a perfect word to describe root vegetables!

Zach—By all means, try browning the chicken first. But instead of discarding the fat in the pan after you’re done, toss the vegetables with it. That will impart a nice chickeny flavor to them.

Zach November 18, 2011 at 5:04 am

So, tried the recipe last night (unfortunately, I didn’t see your response before the the chicken hit the oven), and WOW! Absolutely wonderful, and a great companion to the new snow we have on the ground here. I do plan on browning the skin next time, but that’s simply because I love me some brown, crispy skin. Not at all because anything was wrong with this dish. So very glad I found your site!

John November 24, 2011 at 5:27 am

I love that plate!

Terry B November 24, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Zach—Thanks for reporting. I’m glad you liked it! I’m glad you found Blue Kitchen too.

Thanks, John! It’s an English platter made in 1883. Marion found it at a farm auction years ago.

john November 25, 2011 at 6:58 am

wow 1883! Great find! I have a pretty good collection of platters that I use for pictures but yours is the best I have seen. Congrats!

denz@CafeWayanUbud November 29, 2011 at 2:35 am

CRAP!!!! I been looking for a new dish for thanks giving and I just stumbled upon your blog so late. I guess I have to make this one on Christmas.

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