Nobody would ever have accused my mother of being a really good cook. She, herself, admitted that she didn’t really like to cook. During the years we lived on the Lower East Side, her dinner main course repertoire consisted of – as best as I can recall — broiled lamb chops and steaks and on Friday nights boiled chicken from chicken soup. I guess in her defense I should say that the kitchen in that three-room apartment was so small that only two people could be seated at the table at the same time, so we ate dinner in shifts. Not exactly an incentive to cook anything too elaborate.
When I was 14, we moved to a newly-built 6-room ranch-style house in Queens. The kitchen’s new appliances including a side-by-side refrigerator, a gas cooktop, and a gas wall oven and broiler – very “au courant” for 1959! Another major difference from the LES: this was an eat-in kitchen with a table where the four of us could comfortably sit down for a meal together. A real milestone in our lives! While she continued to do a lot of broiling – now no stooping required! – Mom began to look for ways to expand her limited repertoire. Since I don’t recall her ever owning a cookbook, she must have asked her friends for recipes or found recipes in newspapers or magazines. She became most “creative” with chicken. She never roasted a whole chicken. She always had the butcher cut the chicken into eight parts. I don’t know where or from whom she got the idea to roast the parts in a brown paper bag, but it’s a great method. The result: chicken that is moist, tender, and delicious!
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Open the bag and place it on a baking pan or tray. Prepare a “paste” made by combining paprika, garlic powder, freshly ground pepper, and salt with peanut oil. Coat the chicken pieces with the paste. I do this with my fingers. Messy, but it gets the job done. Place the chicken in the bag and twist the top of the bag tightly to create a seal. Put the bag into the oven and cook for 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the bag from the oven and carefully tear it open. Spoon a little of the juices at the bottom of the bag over the plated chicken.
Now, about the potatoes. My mother’s parents and extended family lived near us on the Lower East Side. However, my father’s parents had moved to the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. At least one Sunday each month, we would take the Sea Beach line to visit them. Other members of my dad’s family were also there. My grandmother, Bobe Fannie, would prepare dinner. The main course was always roasted chicken and potatoes which I eagerly looked forward to because they were incredibly delicious! Those potatoes especially left an indelible sensory memory. She died when I was 17. Since I stupidly never thought to ask her how she did them, I eventually set out to recreate them. Over time, I think I’ve done a pretty good job. They make the perfect accompaniment for the chicken in the bag.
Cut the potatoes into small dice. Chop up some onions. Put the potatoes and onions in a baking pan and liberally sprinkle with paprika, garlic powder, freshly ground black pepper, and salt. Add enough peanut oil to nicely coat the mixture. Roast the potatoes in a pre-heated 350 degree oven, mixing them around with a spoon a few times. Cook until the potatoes are tender, approximately 40-45 minutes.
The meal began with a salad: arugula and artichokes dressed with a lemon vinaigrette.
The chicken and potatoes were accompanied by steamed broccoli.