Mark's Sage Hen
(I know, how wise can it be if it's dinner...)
This is REALLY, really good, and relatively simple (despite the tedious-looking instructions--it's really just "put garlic and sage under the skin, oil and season"). The clean up is pretty simple, too, if you deglaze the skillet.
For the Chicken:
- 1 Fryer
- 1 lemon
- generous salt and pepper
- 2 large sprigs fresh sage (about 16 leaves)
- 5 large cloves garlic
- 1 T. olive oil
- 2 cups unsalted chicken stock (preferably homemade)
- 3 T. white wine or vermouth
Bring the chicken up closer to room temperature by leaving it (wrapped) on the counter for 1-2 hours (no more). Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Rinse and dry your bird (any size will do, really, just adjust the time up or down a bit with size). Peel and halve the garlic cloves. In a skillet (something that will take fond), add a little olive oil and then add your bird, breast down and add a little olive oil, rubbing into the skin. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the back of the bird, then inside. Then turn the bird breast side up and add a bit more oil, making sure the breast is well oiled, then salt and pepper. Loosen the skin around the breast so that you can slide a finger under the skin and then around the outside of the legs. Slide 1 or two half cloves of garlic along with 2 safe leaves under the skin of each leg and thigh, and then slide 2-3 cloves and 3-4 sage leaves under the skin of each side of the breast.
Put the remaining sage and garlic into the cavity and then, with a fork, poke the lemon several times, over the chicken until it will drip a little juice and spritz some of the lemon oil onto the bird. Put the lemon in the cavity. Tie the legs with cotton twine. Place skillet and bird inside the pre-heated oven. Set your timer for 1 hr. 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, clean and rinse your green beans.
For the green beans
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 T. unsalted butter
- 3 cloves chopped (not minced!) fresh garlic
When the timer goes off, check the bird. It should be golden brown and the leg should move easily. If it's not ready, give it another 15 minutes or so. When done, pull the skillet out and let it cool just a bit (1-2 minutes to reduce spattering grease) on the stove. Carefully move the bid to the cutting board and tent with foil. I use a sturdy spatula and tongs to move the bird, which helps me not leave any skin in the pan.
Pour off as much of the fat as possible and then put the skillet over medium high heat. Add the wine, simmer, and scrape some of the bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the stock and bring back to a simmer and reduce to roughly four tablespoons.
Meanwhile, in a large non-stick skillet, melt butter and add chopped garlic. As soon as it's just lightly browned, add the green beans and a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Toss or stir to coat and saute the beans for 1 minute, then toss again, repeating this process 3 more times. Reduce heat to medium. Toss occasionally to brown some of the beans and to make sure all are tender. Pre-heat your plates.
When your sauce has reduced (about 6 minutes) your green beans should be done. Turn the heat down on both and carve your bird. If the bird is small enough, I'll often just halve it. You can either sauce the plate and place the chicken on it, keeping the skin crispier, or spoon the sauce over the chicken. Next, plate the green beans, making sure to get the garlic nubblies as well as the beans.
I can usually skip the starch, but there's a strong argument for a bit of polenta here, if only to soak up any left over sauce. If you were to add a little sauteed leek, I suspect that your guests wouldn't hate you for it.
A Pinot Noir, or even a Primativo pairs well with this, but really many lighter reds or dry whites (Pinot Grigio comes to mind) will do well.
A note on the chicken and the stock:
Firstly, the fresher and less factory raised your bird, the better. I buy mine from a small grocer that sources his from Tewes Poultry just 5 miles south of me. The results are very worth while. Also, it really helps to keep the breast moist, while getting the thighs tender if the cooking is gentle and even. This is why I let the bird sit out for an hour or two and only cook it at 350'. Chicken stock can actually make or break this dish. Cheap, salty broth is not good. The best is homemade, with chicken feet, backs and necks. The mouth-feel of a sauce made with this stock is unmistakably velvety and rich without being heavy. Trust me, it is well worth the effort of making and freezing a large batch of stock some weekend.