Arugula. When I eat this green, see the word, or hear someone say it, I always think of Ina. I’ve been a loyal follower of the Barefoot Contessa since season one, which means I’ve heard Ina Garten describe arugula as peppery at least 105 times. I’ve also seen her roast A LOT of chickens, so it only seemed fitting that she be the inspiration for this whole project.
Ina makes every food experience look effortless, whether it is Friday night chicken for Jeffrey, a beach picnic in the Hamptons, or cooking with Jennifer Garner (yes, that really happened). I knew it couldn’t be that easy in real life, but I tried anyway. My friend Michelle and I “broke into” our friend Michael’s apartment in 2005 to cook him a Barefoot Contessa meal for his birthday while he was at work. Several years later we packed up a beach picnic in chinese takeout containers. The years passed with many pots of lentil soup and coeur a la cremes, all flawless, all effortless, all Ina. The recipes always turned out great, but there was something missing, and it wasn’t the good vanilla.
The missing element was TV Test Kitchen, a platform to show my true reverence for the Barefoot Contessa and my other TV chef friends. Once I got the team assembled, I knew we had to do a Barefoot Contessa episode for the first installment. Not just because she is my number one gal, but because I knew the dish would turn out perfectly with little effort.
The theme for Barefoot Contessa this season is Cook Like Pro, which is also the title of her new cookbook. Coincidence? Never. This roasted capon episode stood out to me because she was making her signature roast and, once again, had fabulous guests helping her in the kitchen. The guests were none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda and Emily Blunt. How bad can that be?
The most difficult part of the process was finding a capon (which didn’t happen). A capon is a castrated rooster that is bigger and fatter than a chicken. I went to a local Amish market and a regular chain grocery story, neither of which had a capon. I thought about driving to Whole Foods, but going to a third store just seemed over the top. I made the executive decision to get a roasting chicken, which you will probably have to do as well. It was not as impressive and plump as Ina’s capon, but it was still tasty. Aside from finding the correct bird, both recipes were very easy to recreate. Leanna only felt intimidated once, and that was at the end when we had to make sure the chicken was cooked all the way through. I wasn’t concerned because I had a meat thermometer and could tell from experience, but for new cooks, it can be daunting. Ina’s on air tip was to wiggle the chicken’s leg to make sure it was fully cooked.
Not only were these recipes easy to execute, but they were also super affordable, especially for Ina. There wasn’t caviar or beef filet or truffle butter. The most expensive thing was the chicken. I purchased the poultry from the local Amish farmers’ market for $15.80, which works out to about $2.43 per pound. Obviously, you can get a cheaper chicken but I wanted to get a good quality bird because of capon failure. All of the other ingredients like lemons, onions, potatoes, and thyme were all affordable, dare I say cheap. I think you could throw in a salad or the roasted green beans (also from this episode) to make a generous meal for four people for about $25.
Ease and affordability boxes have been checked, but what about taste. Well, the taste was incredible. I know you shouldn’t describe food like that, but it had to be done. The meal was incredible. The chicken was juicy and flavorful, but the onions were the star for me. They were caramelizing as the chicken was roasting, creating a pan sauce without any whisking, flour, or wine. Sure, you could make an actual pan sauce from the onions and drippings, but there really wasn’t a need to. We were both impressed that so much flavor could come from so few ingredients. The only items needed for these two recipes are chicken, lemons, thyme, onions, potatoes, butter, oil, and salt & pepper. This proves that you don’t always need a big budget and gourmet ingredients to make a sensational meal for your family and friends.
Overall, the Barefoot Contessa delivered on all three criteria of Ease, Affordability, and Taste. Ina Garten is a goddess, so I’m not surprised at all. Whether you are making a simple roasted chicken or something more complex like a meringue, she never disappoints. If you’d like to recreate this Mary Poppins feast, the recipes are linked here. New episodes of the Barefoot Contessa air on Food Network Sundays at 12:30.
- Quick Prep
- Easy Cleanup
- Cost Effective
- No Capon Availability
- Not Enough Potatoes
- Emily Blunt's Absence