Rich Mead, executive chef-owner of Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens, shows how to stuff a chicken under its skin and roast it to perfection, along with showy sides of seasonal vegetables.

Rich Mead, executive chef-owner of Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens in Corona del Mar, mastered farm-to-fork cooking long before it became trendy. He insists on the freshest and best ingredients, qualities that are evident in every bite of his under-the-skin stuffed roasted chicken.

He uses chicken from Autonomy Farms in Bakersfield, a source where pastured poultry is one of its specialties. The high-quality birds live a true free-range life, dining on bugs and grasses as they roam. Mead says that “they are chickens that actually taste like chicken.”

Autumnal vegetables add irresistibility to the plate: a puree of roasted butternut squash, strands of spaghetti squash and caramelized cipollini onions. And to add a just-right edge, a perky chimichurri is served on the side. It has a bright green hue derived from a bold mix of fresh herbs plus oil and vinegar.

The squash offers subtle sweetness to balance the herbaceous-tart chimichurri; the chicken skin lends a crisp contrast, while the meat slathered in Dijon and garlic offers a juicy flavor.

Mead’s talent for picking out the best seasonal produce at farmer’s markets is much admired in the Orange County culinary community. His Farmhouse open-air setting surrounded with lush gardens seems the perfect spot to showcase his produce-guru expertise.

First food: Early food memories in Washington, D.C., include making waffles and pancakes with his brothers on Sunday mornings while their parents were sleeping. They used Bisquick baking mix and heated up plenty of syrup for generous toppings.

Mom meals: His mother is Chinese, and he recalls that every meal she cooked had rice. He ate with chopsticks that his mother cut down in size to suit his childhood hands. Rice with meat. Rice with vegetables. Lots of rice.

Books for cooks: One of his favorites is “Appetites: A Cookbook” by Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever. He is also fond of “The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook” by Chris Ying and Danny Bowien.

Drink of choice: Sauvignon blanc or Vya, a blend that includes Tinta Roriz, Orange Muscat and dry white wine from Quady Winery in Madera.

Farmhouse Roast Chicken Under-Skin Stuffed, Autumn Vegetables and Herb Box Chimichurri

Yield: 2 servings, plus leftover squash, cipollini and chimichurri

– 1 small butternut squash, halved lengthwise, seeds and “strings” removed
– 1 spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise
– About 16 cipollini onions, peeled, halved top to bottom
– 3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil, or a combination of olive oil and canola oil
– 1 (3 pound) chicken, halved, boned leaving bones in drumettes
– Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Under-skin mixture: stir together 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, 1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary, 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage, 1 tablespoon very thinly sliced peeled garlic, and 1/2 cup Dijon mustard. Slowly whisk in 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil.

– About 1 cup dry white wine
– 3/4 cup chicken broth
– 2 tablespoons butter

Chimichurri: 1/2 cup fresh thyme (finely chopped), 1/4 cup fresh sage (finely chopped), 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary (finely chopped, 4 garlic cloves (peeled and finely chopped), 1 shallot (minced), 1 jalapeno chili (seeds removed, minced), 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt

Cook’s notes: If desired, also include some broccoli, broccolini or sprouting broccoli; blanch until tender crisp in boiling salted water; drain well. If you like, toss it with the spaghetti squash.

  1. Wrap squash halves separately in aluminum foil. Roast in 350-degree oven until tender, 30 to 50 minutes. When cool enough to handle, scoop butternut squash from skin and puree in blender of food processor, adding salt and pepper to taste. Rake spaghetti squash with fork to create spaghetti-like stands.
  2. Sauté cipollini onions in 1 1/2 tablespoon oil in large ovenproof skillet until lightly browned. Add 1/2 cup dry white wine and 1/2 cup chicken broth; bring to a simmer. Place in 300-degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until soft. Monitor to make sure skillet doesn’t go dry; add more broth if needed. Be careful as the handle is hot!
  3. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Season chicken halves with salt and pepper. Push stuffing under the skin, working from the center of the bird, with generous amount of under-skin mixture. Heat about 1 1/ 2 tablespoons oil in large ovenproof skillet on medium-high heat. Place chicken skin-side down and sear until nicely browned. Turn chicken and place in preheated oven and cook until done, checking after 8 minutes. It should be relatively firm to the touch and free of pink color. Transfer to platter. Careful the handle is hot.
  4. Drain grease from pan. Return it to medium-high heat; add white wine and stir to scrape up any brown bits. Boil until reduced in volume by half. Add broth and reduce in volume by half. Whisk in butter. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
  5. Prepare chimichurri: Blend all ingredients in food processor or blender, about 30 seconds.
  6. Place some warm butternut squash puree in middle of plates. Spoon some warm spaghetti squash on top. Place chicken on top with a little of the pan sauce spooned on top. Place some cipollini onions on side (or they can be tossed with the spaghetti squash). Serve with chimichurri on the side.

Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens is at 2301 San Joaquin Hills Road, Corona Del Mar

Cathy Thomas is an award-winning food writer and has authored three cookbooks: “50 Best Plants on the Planet,” “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce,” and “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce.”

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