There are so many things to love about spring. A short list includes warm afternoons and tulips poking out of fresh damp earth. Dreaming up garden plans and evenings light enough and long enough to enjoy a glass of wine while dinner grills on the barbecue.
And while I could list out at least another 100 items to love about the warm weather, my absolute top-of-the-list most favorite thing about spring is dinner on the patio with friends and family. Simple, fancy, take-out, barbecue, grilled cheese sandwiches, it doesn’t matter. If it’s people I love and a meal outside, I’m deliriously happy.
After a wild and unpredictable year none of us could have dreamed up, the opportunity to travel, celebrate and gather with friends and family is finally looking like a real possibility. And if there’s anything I’ve missed about the last year, it’s the way good food brings us to the table.
Whether it’s a mishmash of potluck items lined up on a picnic table where everyone shows up with something to share and a six-pack of beer for the cooler or a sit-down artfully prepared dinner party, the actual meal matters much less than the gathering.
A friend told me she sometimes feels intimidated by hosting get-togethers because cooking for people outside her family can feel like a lot of pressure. What if the recipe is ruined? Or guests don’t enjoy the recipe? What do you do if you burn the dinner and have nothing to serve?
I told her the story of making scones for a birthday brunch a couple of years ago and unbeknownst to me, my toddlers who were “helping” stir the batter decided to add a giant spoonful of salt to the bowl when I wasn’t looking to make it taste “extra good.”
As I proudly passed around the scones and eagerly watched my friends bite into them, one by one, they tried gracefully to choke down their bite or subtly spit theirs into napkins. When we finally figured out what happened, we howled with laughter and still to this day get a good laugh from the memory.
Entertaining is almost never perfect. Most of the time, it’s the imperfect, funny moments that make for the best memories and remind you why you’re friends in the first place. I gently reminded my friend how appreciative and special anyone who sits at her table feels simply because they were invited.
This recipe is an ode to the beauty of spring and our gorgeous Yakima Valley. A whole chicken goes on the barbecue after bathing in buttermilk for a day. The buttermilk trick couldn’t be easier and is from the cookbook ”Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat,” by Samin Nosrat. I don’t think I want to make chicken any other way from here on out. The result is a tender, full-of-flavor chicken perfect for just about any dish or recipe you want to serve but especially wonderful in this springy panzanella salad.
Grilled asparagus, toasty sourdough croutons, and buttermilk chicken combine with a bright flavorful vinaigrette for a salad that hits all the right notes. Paired with a bright Gilbert Cellars Rose or a lovely silky Owen Roe Syrah, this Yakima Valley-inspired dish is the spring dinner we want to eat all season long.
For the Chicken:
4-pound whole chicken, giblets removed
2 cups full-fat buttermilk
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon paprika
For the Salad:
5-ounce container arugula
1 pound asparagus
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon lemon zest
3 cups cubed sourdough bread
1/2 cup currants OR Craisins
1/4 cup shaved parmesan cheese
For the Dressing:
1 shallot minced
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tablespoon dried dill
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, minced
Kosher salt and black pepper
Start by brining the chicken a full 24 hours before you plan to barbecue it. In a large gallon-size Ziploc bag combine the buttermilk, salt and pepper. Give a quick stir to combine. Remove giblets and any excess fat from the chicken. Place the chicken in the Ziploc bag, seal and gently turn the bag so the chicken is coated on all sides. Place Ziploc-sealed chicken in a bowl and store in the refrigerator until ready to barbecue.
When it’s time to cook the chicken, heat barbecue to medium-high. If you have a Traegar grill, set temperature to 400 degrees. Carefully remove chicken from the buttermilk, placing on a baking sheet. Mix the garlic powder, paprika and brown sugar in a small bowl and spread evenly all over the chicken.
Place chicken breast-side-up on the grill on indirect heat. Cover the grill and slightly lower the temperature to medium heat or about 350 degrees. Allow the chicken to cook for 30 minutes. Turn the chicken and cook an additional 20 minutes breast-side-down, again with the lid closed. Turn the chicken a final time and cook 10 to 15 minutes more OR until a meat thermometer shows an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Cooking time will vary a little bit depending on grill temperature and size of bird. Remove chicken from the grill and place on a clean plate. Set aside to cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing.
To make the salad, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the asparagus into 2-inch pieces, discarding the tough ends. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and lemon zest. Sprinkle the vegetables with a pinch of kosher salt. Roast in the oven for about 5 minutes. The asparagus is perfect when the vegetables are bright green and still a bit crunchy. Remove from oven and set aside.
Heat a large skillet or cast iron pan over medium-high heat with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the bread and cook, flipping the pieces after a minute or two so they toast evenly and brown on all sides, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a large bowl, layer the grilled asparagus and sourdough bread over the arugula. Sprinkle the currants and shaved parmesan cheese over the salad. Slice the chicken into six pieces including the wings, drumsticks and breasts. Slice the breasts into thin pieces and arrange over the salad. Drizzle the salad with dressing and serve immediately.
Combine the shallot, olive oil, rice wine vinegar, dill and flat leaf parsley in a small jar. Add a 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and pinch of black pepper. Seal with a lid, shake vigorously and taste, adding a bit more salt if necessary. Pour over salad as preferred and save extras in the refrigerator for up to two days.