If you are driving the stretch of land between Grand Rapids and Lake Michigan you will see a patchwork of farms around the town of Hudsonville and in late fall some of those farms will be harvesting winter squash, a seemingly endless variety of shapes in oranges and greens. If you happen to stumble across the white acorn squash, buy one or two. The creamy white flesh becomes wonderfully buttery when roasted. In this recipe, the squash is roasted under a brined, roasted chicken for over an hour along with carrots and onion, with the addition of late fall herbs and a bit of apple for brightness.
Fall Harvest Chicken
4 cups unfiltered apple cider
½ cup salt
6 cloves garlic, crushed, skins on
2 bay leaves
8 whole peppercorns
16 whole coriander seeds
½ cup fresh chopped oregano
½ cup fresh chopped savory (or thyme)
4 cups ice
4 lb. whole chicken
4 Tbs. butter
1 quartered Honey Crisp apple
2 acorn squash, pealed, seeded, large cubes
4 carrots, peeled, large pieces (similar size to squash)
2 medium sweet onions, 8 pieces each
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
To make the brine: Place first 6 ingredients in a stock pot over medium high heat. Add half of the oregano and savory. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat then add the ice. The amount of ice does not have to be exact, but the brine should end up at room temperature and should have a saltiness similar to a salty broth. Remove neck and innards from cavity and place chicken in a container just large enough to hold it and cover it with the brine. Allow it to sit in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours.
Remove chicken from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour prior to cooking. Pre-heat oven to 475°F. Place the acorn squash, carrot, onion, and oil in a heavy cast iron roaster or similar pan large enough to accommodate the chicken. Sprinkle with herbs. Stuff apple into the cavity of the chicken and then settle the chicken into the middle of the vegetables, breast side down. After 25 minutes, turn chicken over and slide butter under the skin above the breast. Turn oven down to 400°F and return pan to the oven and cook for an additional 45 minutes or until an internal temperature of 160°F. The legs of the chicken should be loose and the juices run clear. Remove chicken from pan and allow to rest on a carving board.
We served this on a bed of red kale sauteed with shallots, which provides a nice bit of bitterness to contrast the sweet richness of the roasted squash. The apple cider brined chicken, along with the Honey Crisp roasted inside, added a hint of brightness. We had house-made spiced apple sauce which we served warm alongside the chicken. Overall it was a wonderful Sunday dinner, celebrating the fall harvest, and a fine example of Great Lakes Cuisine.