Melissa Clark launched her new book, Dinner: Changing the Game, at Powerhouse Books. She was interviewed by a friend, Melanie Dunea (My Last Supper). I‘m not sure if we learned a lot about the book but we did hear that Clark was once a coat-check girl with Mariah Carey, and that Mariah was too distracted by music to actually check many coats. Poor Mimi.
But, back to dinner. In young Clark's household it was an informal meal – her mom would cook in between psychoanalysis patients, and Melissa and her sister would eat early…and then eat again later with her parents. When going out to eat, the “Clark rule” was that each person had to order something dinner (and agree on all orders beforehand), and then a quarter of the way through the meal they would all switch plates, and on and on. So, it's not a surprise that she eschews the traditional "meat and two sides" experience.
Her own young family does things in a more modern way, and this book basically describes what they ate for dinner as she was writing it. Each recipe is meant to be a complete meal in itself – you can add salad and bread, if you want, but each page is meant to stand on its own. “I’m always thinking about how to cut down on dishes, how to not make separate sides. I want to make one dish and then be done.”
“I’ve gotten busier and more overwhelmed over the years, but also more demanding. I want to keep the technique simple but make the ingredients interesting.” To that end, she also admitted to buying prepared foods and doctoring them to her liking for parties. Her “last supper” meal would be a bagel and lox, which, incidentally, are things you buy and don’t need to make yourself.
But in a nutshell, it’s all about making the cooking experience a good one, and not doing it if it’s going to be a chore you don’t look forward to. “Sometimes my husband reads to me while I cook, or my daughter reads in the kitchen while I talk to her. I have a glass of wine, we put on music, and good conversation…I don’t think we allow ourselves to enjoy the experience of preparing a meal.”
make this one thing:
chicken & grapes with sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1½ teaspoons fennel seeds, lightly crushed in a mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 spatchcocked chicken, 4 ½ to 5 pounds, patted dry - [Ed. Note: she does give instructions for this, but trust me, this is what YouTube was made for]
12 ounces red seedless grapes, stemmed (1½ cups) – or use a mix of red and green
1 teaspoon sugar
1½ teaspoons sherry vinegar, or more to taste
1½ teaspoons unsalted butter
In a small bowl, combine the 1 tablespoon salt, fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon pepper, lemon zest, and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Rub this mixture generously over the chicken. Place the chicken, skin-side up, on a rimmed baking sheet and let it stand for at least one hour.
About 15 minutes before you are ready to cook the chicken, heat the oven to 475F.
Transfer the chicken to the oven and roast it for 20 minutes.
In a small bowl, toss the grapes with the remaining 1 teaspoons olive oil, the sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Scatter the grapes around the chicken, and roast until chicken is just cooked through and the grapes are lightly caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes.
Transfer the chicken to a cutting board to rest Spoon the grapes into a bowl. Place the baking sheet over two burners on medium-high heat. Add the vinegar to the pan juices and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the baking sheet. Pour the mixture into a small saucepan and warm it over medium heat. Whisk in the butter.
Carve the chicken and top it with the grapes and spoonfuls of the sauce. Serve with polenta or farro.