Photos by Donna Turner Ruhlman
I’m fascinated by what America eats at home—not by what people serve at a dinner party or the latest favorite recipe they’ve found, but rather by what America’s default meals are. I’d love to know from readers, what are your staple meals? What are the meals you return to again and again—meals that are economical, quick, taste good, feel good, meals you make without having to think much? (I don't know why I say America–I'm just as curious and maybe more about what staple household meals are in Australia and India and Japan! If you're an overseas reader, please comment.)
One of our staples is roast chicken, once a week, usually on Monday. With potatoes and green beans. Or now that it’s summer, the above grilled chicken. The potatoes vary (sometimes baked, sometimes roasted in the same grill the chicken’s in—a great strategy when the weather is really hot—sometimes fried, sometimes new with herbs) and the beans vary (sometimes with almonds, sometimes with lemon, sometimes reheated in bacon fat with dried chilli). Sometimes I make a sauce for the chicken, sometimes just serve it with butter and mustard, or over wilted spinach. But always chicken, potatoes and green beans. Like this one from last night, grilled chicken, green beans with coarse salt, lemon juice and zest, and new potatoes with fresh herbs:
So what are yours? I want to know the whole thing, not just pot roast or burgers, but what the entire meal is, and a little detail, if it's pot roast, do you braise it in stock, tomato sauce, etc.?
The above chicken has a great baste that my father created and that I’ve tweaked a bit. I slide a knife down either side of the backbone of the chicken to remove it. I flatten the bird out, salt it, flip it over onto a hot grill over direct heat (I build a fire in a Weber kettle with half the grill covered with very hot coals, and leave the other half of the grill bare) and cook it for ten minutes to get a nice seared skin (if the coals are very hot or if there's a lot of fat that will render, you may need to cover your grill at this point–keep a close eye at this stage). Then I flip it over and onto the other side of the grill. Cover the grill and let it cook for another forty minutes or so while I cook the beans and potatoes. During the last twenty minutes I baste it with the following:
Rip’s Grilled Chicken Baste
Juice from ½ lime
4 ounces butter (a stick)
1-1/2 tablespoons Coleman’s powdered mustard
1 tablespoon dried tarragon
1 tablespoon minced shallot
Squeeze the lime juice into a small sauce pan and place it over high heat. When the juice is warm, add the butter and swirl it in the juice constantly over the high heat until the butter is melted (you can just melt the butter if you want, but the swirling keeps the butter emulsified, which helps to keep the ingredients well distributed). Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. That’s it.
Serve the grilled chicken with a chilli lime mayonnaise or simply squeeze some juice from the other half of the lime over the chicken. Serve with potatoes and green beans.
UPDATE 6/25: Thank you everyone for taking the time to comment. Your enthusiastic responses have been fascinating and a number of people have told me they've come away with new ideas for themselves. I'm thrilled by the quality and diversity of the kinds of meals you've described here. Again, thanks.