Skip the big bird

Gretchen McKay
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)

Time to own up to Thanksgiving’s dirty little secret.

That 20-pound bird you spend so much time fretting over and slave to get in the oven? Nobody loves it.

Do your dinner guests love turkey in the same way they adore stuffing, which never makes it to leftover status? Does it rival Grandma’s candied sweet potatoes? Elicit the same excitement as the homemade corn pudding?

Or are your dinner guests simply being polite about this turkey of an entree so they won’t feel guilty scarfing down the pumpkin pie?

This year, flout tradition and make your Thanksgiving centerpiece something your guests will really enjoy — a fat, juicy chicken. It’s just as impressive on a platter, and tasty, but it takes a lot less time to make. Whereas turkey so often cooks up dry and flavorless, a good roast chicken will never let you down.

Spend extra money on a good-quality bird for the holiday.

This recipe from Kevin Dundon’s “The Raglan Road Cookbook,” which calls for cooking the bird with an initial blast of high heat, followed by roasting at a lower temperature, is wonderfully aromatic and a breeze to prepare. The dish delivers everything you expected from a good roast chicken — crispy skin, tender breast meat and dense, flavorful dark meat.

Stuffed Chicken With Roasted Root Vegetables

Serves: 4 to 6.

Note: Chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees, but it’s not a bad idea to take it out of the oven once it reaches 155 or 160 degrees — a few minutes on the counter before serving will allow the meat to rest, which is especially important when you’re cooking a whole chicken that you plan to carve.

For chicken

1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened

1/2 medium-sized onion, diced

Grated zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons freshly chopped sage, parsley, thyme or rosemary

4 cups soft white breadcrumbs

1 large good-quality roasting chicken (4 to 5 pounds)

Salt and pepper

1/2 lemon

For vegetables

8 small carrots, halved lengthwise

2 small parsnips, halved and cut into wedges

12 large shallots, peeled and trimmed

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into wedges

1/4 cup olive oil, or more as needed

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Salt and black pepper

Prepare chicken: Melt butter in a medium-sized saucepan, add in diced onion and cook over a very low heat for 5 minutes or until completely softened. Mix in lemon zest, freshly chopped herbs and breadcrumbs. Season this mixture lightly. Allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Stuff cavity of chicken with breadcrumb mixture. Add half a lemon, to keep stuffing in place and for additional flavor. Place chicken onto a roasting tray with a rack (it allows air to circulate under the bird and helps brown the skin all over). Toss vegetables in oil and add thyme. Place in pan under the bird, so they catch all the drippings.

Loosen skin of chicken. Take additional butter and gently massage it into the breasts under the skin of the bird. (I also rubbed butter all over the outside of the chicken.) Sprinkle a little bit of salt and cracked black pepper over the skin. (You can add grated garlic, grated lemon, herbs and spices to taste for a little more excitement.) If you like, tie the chicken’s legs together at the ankles with one piece of twine, and then use another piece of twine to tie the wings to the breast.

If you don’t have a roasting pan with a rack, place the vegetables in the pan first and rest the chicken on top to prop the bird off the pan.

Transfer chicken to oven and roast for 15 to 20 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and cook chicken and vegetables for another hour or until the juices run clear. The meat, particularly on the legs and thighs, should feel tender. Turn vegetables from time to time so they brown on all sides. Check for doneness with an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh; it should read 165 degrees.

Put vegetables on a serving platter, correct seasoning and place roasted chicken on top.