Holiday Comfort Food: The Ashley Christensen Way

What exactly does a James Beard award-winning chef cook for holiday gatherings? Grass-fed beef tenderloin en croute? Duck chou farci? Whole-poached salmon?

Well, if that chef happens to be Raleigh’s Ashley Christensen, the answer is simple — roast chicken.

Ashley Christensen. Photo contributed by Paul Mehaffey.

For Christensen and her wife Kait Goalen, a roast chicken is akin to the holy grail of at-home dinners. “At home, one of the things we eat the most is a simple roast chicken with a green salad,” Christensen said. “It’s something that I always feel very comforted by. It’s not about luxury, but about simplicity.”

When it comes to cooking the chicken, Christensen isn’t wedded to one particular way. Sometimes she’ll pan-roast the bird, whole or in quarters, and finish it in the oven. Other times she’ll spatchcock it (taking out the backbone and opening it up flat like a book), starting it in a low temperature oven and then cranking the heat toward the end to get a perfectly crispy skin.

Regardless of the cooking method, she does have one piece advice for home cooks — resist going for that Norman Rockwell moment when ready to serve.

“It’s so iconic, that image of people carving at the table, but it’s really hard,” she insists. Instead, she recommends resting the bird for 15 to 20 minutes, carving it in the kitchen, and then presenting the ready-to-eat meat on a platter.

If all of this sounds like the perfect meal for a holiday get-together, then you’re in luck, because Christensen also gave us three of her favorite recipes. Her herby, garlicky roast chicken is cut into four pieces to make it more manageable and is done all in a cast-iron skillet, making cleanup a cinch. Alongside the chicken, you can serve her Oyster Mushrooms and Brussels with Sherry Cream for an elegant take on traditional roasted Brussels sprouts. Her Mashed Potatoes with Herb-Scented Cream take a common roast chicken accompaniment and amp it up with the addition of herb-infused heavy cream.

The only thing left to figure out now is who gets what piece of chicken.

“Fortunately, Kait is a leg person and I’m a thigh person,” Christensen said, laughing.

Cast-Iron Roast Chicken with Garlic and Herbs

Serves 4


Kosher salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 (3 ½-pound) whole chicken, quartered, backbones and wingtips removed (reserve these for making stock later)
2 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil
1 head garlic, halved across the equator
2 rosemary sprigs
4 thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil


Combine 6 tablespoons salt, the sugar, and 4 cups water in a large pot and stir until the salt and sugar dissolve. Add 4 more cups cold water. Add the chicken pieces. Cover and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours. Remove the chicken from the brine, discard the brine, and pat the pieces dry.

Place a rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat a convection oven to 300 F or a regular oven to 325 F. In a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat, heat the vegetable oil until it shimmers. Season the chicken lightly with salt and place the pieces, skin side down, in the skillet, with as much of the skin in contact with the surface of the pan as possible. Cook for 1 minute, then place the garlic, cut side down, in the pan, along with the rosemary and thyme. Let sear until the herbs and garlic are very aromatic, 4 to 5 minutes, then move the herbs and garlic to the tops of the chicken pieces (so that they don’t burn, but are still giving off flavor). Continue cooking until the skin is very crisp (lift up a piece of chicken to take a peek), about 3 minutes. Cut the butter into four equal pieces and place one on top of each piece of chicken.

Slide the pan into the oven and cook for 30 minutes. Flip the chicken and increase the oven temperature to 450 F for convection or 475 F for a regular oven. Cook for an additional 10 minutes, watching closely to make sure the chicken doesn’t brown too quickly. Remove the skillet from the oven and transfer the chicken pieces, skin-side up, to a wire rack. Let rest for a minimum of 10 minutes.

Remove the herbs and garlic from the skillet, reserving the garlic for garnish, and pour the drippings into a small saucepan. Once the chicken has rested 10 minutes, bring the contents of the saucepan to a simmer over medium heat; cut the heat and whisk in the lemon juice and olive oil.

Place the chicken on a platter, drizzle with the pan sauce, and serve. Garnish with reserved roasted garlic cloves if desired.

Mashed Potatoes with Herb-Scented Cream

Serves 6-8


4 cups heavy cream
1 ½ teaspoons black peppercorns
½ shallot
1 head garlic, halved across the equator
1 fresh bay leaf
4 thyme sprigs
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
2 pounds russet potatoes
Kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes, at room temperature
Sea salt


In a large saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream, peppercorns, shallot, garlic, and bay leaf to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the thyme. Let steep for 15 minutes. Strain the cream through a fine-mesh sieve, discarding the solids and reserving the cream.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-inch cubes. Place the potatoes in a pot with 10 cups water and season with 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Place the pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 18 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes are fork-tender. Drain the potatoes well and return them to the pot.

In a large saucepan, warm the cream, but don’t let it boil. Place the pot of potatoes over low heat just to warm them through. Using an electric mixer, whip the potatoes on medium speed until smooth. Add half of the warm cream to the potatoes, followed by half of the butter. Continue to beat with the mixer, and when both are fully incorporated, continue to add the remaining cream and butter bit by bit until you’ve reached a silky-smooth consistency. You may not need all of the cream and butter; it depends on how starchy your potatoes are. Season the potatoes with 1 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste) and serve immediately.

Porcini Butter

Makes about 1 cup


1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature


In a small saucepan, combine the dried mushrooms with just enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer, and cook on low heat for 45 minutes to an hour. There should still be a bit of liquid left in the pan. If not, add a splash of water.

Transfer the mushrooms and any remaining cooking liquid to a blender and puree on high speed until a thick, smooth paste forms. Spread the puree on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and refrigerate until completely chilled.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and mushroom puree until thoroughly incorporated, about 5 minutes. Scoop the butter into a lidded container and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, or freeze for up to 3 months.

Oyster Mushrooms and Brussels Sprouts with Sherry and Cream

Serves 8


3 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil
2 pounds oyster mushrooms, tough stems removed, torn into bite-size pieces
Sea salt
¼ cup minced shallots
4 thyme sprigs
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and cut into quarters
1 cup amontillado sherry (I like Lustau)
¾ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 tablespoons Porcini Butter (see previous recipe)
Juice of half a lemon


In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and let sear, stirring a few times, until the moisture they release has evaporated, the edges begin to crisp, and the mushrooms get caramelized. Season lightly with salt.

Add the shallots and thyme and cook for 1 minute, stirring to combine and coat everything. Stir in the Brussels sprouts, then add the sherry and deglaze the pan by swirling and scraping the bottom of the pan to release any browned bits. Cook until the liquid is reduced by three-quarters, stirring occasionally; this will take about 3 minutes. Add the cream and let it reduce until it’s thickened slightly and coats the Brussels sprouts and mushrooms, about another 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cold porcini butter. Stir in the lemon juice, season with salt to taste, and serve immediately.

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