Gillian Clark knows comfort food.
The chef crafted her culinary style by watching her father, whose collection of dog-eared recipes yielded classic down-home delights such as sticky buns and smothered pork chops.
At her cafe in Washington, D.C., she dishes out homey fare — from jazzed-up hamburgers spiced with roasted garlic and onions to tangy meatloaf seasoned with a puree of raisins and red peppers — with a bit more flair. And on the rare nights she cooks for her own enjoyment, she relies on similar simple-yet-satisfying dishes to entertain friends and family.
For those casual get-togethers, she often turns to an old favorite, a one-pot chicken, roasted to succulence with heaps of potatoes, onions and garlic, and topped with a pan gravy.
Add a quick vegetable side, such as fresh green beans, boiled, buttered and salted, and you have a meal but not a mess.
"You’ve got your gravy, your bird, and your potatoes all out of one pot," she said. "In my house — since I cook to avoid washing the dishes — this often brings smiles from everyone."
Clark starts her main dish by heating the oven to a scorching hot 450 degrees. (Her tip: Keep a kitchen towel handy to fan the smoke alarm when it starts buzzing.)
The bird gets a coating of fat — either olive oil or butter — and for flavor, she uses a trick from culinary master Judy Rodgers, who once claimed "there is no higher art form than the perfectly roasted chicken": a whopping two tablespoons of salt. The result is super-savory meat (but a carcass too salty for stock).
Clark, 40, is a casual cook, sipping wine (she likes a light red with this dish) while checking whether the bird is "singing," her term for the popping and sizzling heard coming from the oven.
When it is — and the skin nicely browned — the oven temp is lowered, and the cook gets some down time.
When the chicken is done, about an hour later, it goes on a plate for carving, and the pot from which it was just plucked becomes a vessel for gravy made of drippings, flour and thyme.
Finally, she serves the one-pot wonder, drizzled in the juicy roux, and the rave reviews pour in.