Celebrating a Time-Honored Classic
Mindy Fox, cookbook author, food writer and food editor at La Cucina Italiana magazine, shares her tips for the perfectly roasted chicken, ways to reinvent the iconic dish and her favorite picnic-ready recipes.
AndrewZimmern.com: As the food editor of La Cucina Italiana and author of several cookbooks, you obviously have a knack for food writing. What drew you to this profession initially?
Mindy Fox: I initially came into food writing and cookbook authoring via the restaurant kitchen, where I started as a prep cook and worked my way up to sous chef. I had studied film and photography in college, partially at the Sorbonne in Paris, during which time I traveled in France, Italy and Turkey. After college I was unsure of which direction my career would take. While considering a fine arts graduate degree, I unexpectedly landed in the kitchen. Cooking became my first creative medium, marrying my love for food and culture with my desire to learn and practice a craft. Later, writing came into play. Putting the two together was magic for me. My initial instincts and desires to travel, to understand and connect to culture, people, place, language, craft, art and ingredients, and to tell stories on the page and through images, found a home in cooking, writing and cookbook producing.
AZ.com: Your cookbook, The Perfectly Roasted Chicken, which was just rereleased in paperback, is all about roasted chicken. Why did you decide to focus on this classic, iconic dish?
MF: Eleven years ago I fell deeply in love with a guy who happened to have one food allergy: chicken! Not long after we met, Steve became my husband. At first I thought nothing of the allergy, in terms of my own eating habits. Soon I realized, after several months sans chicken (which, especially roasted, had long been a favorite for me), that I madly craved the dish! Whenever Steve was away for a few days, I’d dash to the butcher shop for a whole chicken. Of course a whole roasted chicken for one person goes a long way. After enjoying the initial meal, I found myself making all sorts of wonderful pastas, soups, salads and more with the surplus meat – even breakfast dishes (I love savory breakfasts). I’d sometimes freeze some of the cooked meat for a later date, and always used the carcass to make a beautiful rich broth. I rediscovered how much I loved especially roast chicken, how economical and versatile the dish is and what a delight it is to cook. Nora Ephron’s saying, “Everything is copy”, which she learned from her mother, regularly rings in my head. Our personal life experience is so often a goldmine for creative ideas.
AZ.com: Three ways to reinvent this timeless recipe?
MF: For The Perfectly Roasted Chicken, I loved working with tea brines and ended up using Lapsang Souchong tea and Chinese five spice in one recipe, which ultimately produced a gorgeous lacquered-looking, smoke-kissed, subtly sweet bird.
Another reinvention was a salami-barded salt encrusted bird. The chicken is roasted in a thick salt crust, resulting in tender meat that falls off the bone. It’s easy and a lot of fun to do. You chip off then remove the crust before you serve the bird. Dramatic! The salami lends an extra meaty flavor.
One of my favorite unexpected dishes to make with the surplus roast chicken meat is my recipe for Cuban Rice with Chicken. The rice is tossed with fresh scallions and shredded roast chicken and served with sweet shallow-fried bananas and a fried egg on top, and a simple tomato sauce on the side. It’s delicious for brunch served with café con leche.
AZ.com: Tips for guaranteeing a juicy bird with crispy skin?
MF: A juicy bird can be had with many roasting techniques (ie with butter or without; roasting the chicken whole, spatchcocked or in parts), as long as you purchase a good quality bird (I especially love Murray’s chickens and local / farmer’s market birds raised with care and without antibiotics) and follow a good recipe for roasting. If crispy skin is your goal, it’s best to air dry the chicken in the fridge overnight before roasting, and omit butter or any other fat during cooking. The air of the fridge begins a drying process for the skin; salt and the heat of the oven complete the job (see page 18 in the book for the recipe). The dryness on the skin is what gives you that often desired crispy texture.
AZ.com: With summer fast approaching, what are your go-to picnic-ready dishes?
MF: Taking any sort of whole roast chicken or roasted chicken dish to a picnic is a lot of fun (don’t forget to pack a stack of towelettes!), or a roast chicken salad. I often tote along my herb-packed tabbouleh with roast chicken or curried chicken salad with raisins, honey and lime.
AZ.com: Favorite casual restaurants in NYC?
AZ.com: What’s in your fridge?
MF: My staples include anchovies, lemons, salt-packed capers, Sriracha, harissa, Hellman’s mayo, sheep’s milk yogurt, burrata cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano, pancetta, fresh herbs, Dijon mustard, Aleppo pepper, farmer’s market eggs, walnuts and blueberries. At the moment, we are testing La Cucina Italiana’s big pasta issue, which comes out in September, so I’ve got multiple lasagne going. Not a bad job!
Check out Mindy’s picnic-ready recipes for Curried Chicken Salad & Tabbouleh.
Mindy Fox is a cookbook author, food writer and the food editor at La Cucina Italiana magazine. Her most recent book, Salads: Beyond the Bowl was chosen as a “Best Cookbook” by The New York Times (Christine Muhlke’s ’20 More Cookbooks’, May 31, 2012) and Epicurious (Best 10 Cookbooks of 2012), and received accolades from Bon Appétit magazine, Heidi Swanson and many more. Fox’s first book, A Bird in the Oven and Then Some (Republished in 2013 as The Perfectly Roasted Chicken), was included in The New York Times’ 2010 Best Cookbooks of the Year, and Food & Wine magazine’s Best of the Best. Fox is the co-author with chef Sara Jenkins of Olives & Oranges: Recipes and Flavor Secrets from Italy, Spain, Cyprus & Beyond (Houghton Mifflin 2008), an IACP Best Cookbook finalist, and co-author with Chef Karen DeMasco of The Craft of Baking (Clarkson Potter 2009), a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
Formerly on staff at Saveur, Fox has written for Saveur, La Cucina Italiana, Every Day with Rachel Ray, Prevention, Time Out New York and Edible Manhattan magazines. Her recipes and other freelance work have appeared in numerous regional, national and international newspapers and magazines including The London Times, Food & Wine, Everyday Food, Country Living, Garden Design, Prevention and Parenting magazines, and on BonAppetit.com, Epicurious.com, The DailyMeal.com, FoodRepublic.com, LeitesCulinaria.com, PantryConfidential.com, TheImprovisedLife.com and many more. Fox has made numerous radio and television appearances, including Good Morning America/Health, The Splendid Table, NPR/WNYC: Last Chance Foods, Sirius XM’s Martha Stewart Living Radio and Everyday Food programs, Heritage Radio’s: The Food Seen, The B. Smith and Thank You, Dan show, and Better TV.
Early in her career, Fox cooked professionally in Boston restaurants, training with James Beard Award nominee chef Stan Frankenthaler and others. Fox’s cooking and writing has been inspired by extensive travels in France, Italy, Mexico, Brazil and Turkey. Fox is a member of the culinary council at The Sylvia Center, a nonprofit organization teaching, inspiring and supporting children in their efforts to develop personal confidence, cooking skills and healthy eating habits for life.