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The Handoff: Herb Roasted Chicken with Apple, Butternut & Leek Purée

2010 October 14

by Sarah A. Maine

Fall Cornucopia

In her posts last week, Brianna evoked the unfolding aura of fall in San Diego.  This week in New York the air has been gentle, the light has been golden, and the temperature has been mild.  We had one day of pouring rain that felt comforting, unlike the seemingly endless rain we had here in the spring.  I already miss the brash heat and brightness of summer but right now fall is treating me well.  Summer is my favorite time of year for being, but I think fall is the best time of year for cooking.  I mean really cooking – with the oven going full blast roasting assorted meats and vegetables and a big pot of soup simmering over the stove.  In the fall the act of actually cooking your food doesn’t drive you out of the kitchen from sheer overheating.  In the spirit of really cooking this week I tackled roasting a whole chicken, something I’d never done before (although I’ve participated in the turkey roasting at Thanksgiving, I’m usually my sister’s sous chef – mostly on basting duty).

Brianna’s image of a cornucopia of vegetables really got my juices flowing, especially since right now on my kitchen counter I have an array of winter squash – butternut, kabocha, acorn, and another unidentified one; they will all meet a delicious roasted fate in the coming days.  For my own ode to the beginning of autumn I’ve decided to appropriate a few different aspects of last week’s Moroccan Chicken with Figs: fruit, herbs, an orange fall vegetable, and a whole chicken.

After my (ultimately) successful Chicken Quest earlier in the week, I was most of the way to having all the ingredients I needed for my recipe, however, a few crucial elements were still missing:

  1. The herbs – very important for herb roasted chicken!  I wanted fresh sage and thyme to offset the innate sweetness of the squash purée.
  2. Apples – I had mentioned my idea for butternut leek purée to my mother and she reminded me that apples are an ideal partner for butternut squash so I decided to add them to the mix.

To remedy this situation I picked up a bunch of fresh sage and another of fresh thyme from Maxwell’s Farmstand at the Union Square Greenmarket.  I also bought several pounds of Honeycrisp apples (one of my favorite types) from Red Jacket Orchards, four apples were for the chicken, the rest were for me!

Apples & Herbs at Union Square Market

At home I assembled my components and readied the oven for roasting.  When I bought my chicken at the Meat Hook, the butcher who wrapped up my bird advised me to roast it at a low heat, 300º F or even 275ºF, for a long time – to make it nice and juicy.  Apparently this is especially advisable for pasture raised birds because, I imagine, they actually have muscles from running around, unlike their industrially processed cousins.  Now, I will say that my chicken certainly was juicy and very tasty, but it took soooooo long to get it to the point where it was cooked, and I was so harried from the uncertainty of the process, that I don’t even know how long it was actually in the oven.  So.  In my recipe below I have based the roasting directions on Mark Bittman’s directions for “Simplest Whole Roast Chicken” from How to Cook Everything.  I recommend that you follow a roasting procedure that makes you feel comfortable and confident about a delicious outcome.  Now, without further ado, here is my take on herb roasted chicken served with a burst of the beginning of fall:

Herb Roasted Chicken with Apple, Butternut and Leek Purée

Prep time: 45 minutes

Cook time: approx. 1 hour (depending on the size of your bird)

Total time: 1 hour 45 minutes

Yield: 4-6 servings


  • 1 whole (3-4 lbs.) pasture-raised chicken
  • 1 Tbs fresh thyme
  • 12 fresh sage leaves, chopped
  • 4 Tbs organic butter
  • 1 small butternut squash, seeded, peeled and cubed
  • 4 apples, peeled and cubed
  • 1 leek, cleaned and chopped
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or chicken stock

Cooking Directions

  1. Peel and cube the apples and the butternut squash, clean and chop the leek. Reserve a handful of apple cubes to put in the cavity of the chicken with some chopped herbs. Put the rest of the vegetables aside in a roasting pan with 1/2 cup of stock.
  2. Chop the sage and thyme leaves and mix approximately 1 Tbs of each with 4 Tbs of butter in a small bowl. Go ahead and get in there with your fingers to make sure the herbs are distributed evenly throughout. Mix any leftover herbs with the apple cubes to go into the cavity of the chicken and set aside.
  3. Rinse the chicken inside and out and pat dry.
  4. Rub the herbed butter all over the chicken and place it in a roasting plan, stuff the cavity with a handful of apples and herbs. I lined the pan with my vegetable mix and roasted them all together. You may want to roast the chicken and vegetables separately for ease of cooking, the stock added to the veggies will reduce the browning of the chicken.Preparing the chicken with herb butter
  5. Chicken roasting instructions (as per Mark Bittman’s “Simplest Whole Roast Chicken from How to Cook Everything): Heat the oven to 450º F. Five minutes after you turn on the oven, put a cast iron skillet or another type of heavy ovenproof skillet on a rack low in the oven.
  6. After about 10 minutes, when the pan and the oven are hot, carefully put the chicken (breast side up as shown in the pictures) in the hot pan. Roast undisturbed for 40-50 minutes, until the juices run clear or until an instant-read thermometer plunged into the thickest part of the thigh reads 155-165º F. Carefully tip the pan to let any juices from the cavity flow into the pan, if the juices are still red cook for another 5 minutes.
  7. As I mentioned at the top of the recipe, cooking time may vary slightly due to the size of the bird and the character of your oven. Using a thermometer is the best way to insure that the chicken is fully cooked.
  8. Remove the bird from the oven and allow it to rest.Herb Roasted Chicken with roasted apples, butternut squash & leeks
  9. Vegetable instructions: Roast the vegetables for 45 minutes until the squash is tender. Stir the mixture at about 20 minutes to coat the fruit and vegetables with the stock. Remove the roasted fruit and vegetables from the oven. While the chicken is resting, remove the apples from the cavity and add them to the roasted mixture. Run the apples, squash and leeks through the food processor until it is puréed. Add salt and pepper to taste. I didn’t add any since this simple combination is one of my favorites just the way it is.
  10. When the chicken is rested, quarter it and serve with the apple, squash and leek purée and any other fall favorites!


Herb Roasted Chicken with Roasted Apples, Butternut Squash & Leeks

The last thing I want to add is that the apple, squash and leek purée can very easily be converted into a standalone dish – a delicious and filling soup – in a matter of minutes.  Once you have your purée, which you can eat right away or store in the freezer for later, all you need is a few cups of stock (vegetable or chicken depending on your dietary preferences), some salt, pepper and a couple of whole cloves.  Put the purée in a sauce pan and add the stock until it reaches the desired consistency, personally I like thick and chunky soups so I am miserly with the stock.  Add the cloves and let it simmer for about 30 minutes on a low flame, stirring occasionally.  Add salt and pepper to taste, top with some grated cheese or a spoonful of plain yogurt and let the fruits of autumn warm you from the inside out!  Leave a comment and let us know about your roasting adventures and how you are adapting your cooking to the new season.  We want to hear your recipes and your stories!!