Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson and cookbook author shows off his recipe for bird of the year

If there is one thing that everyone should have to show for themselves after a year of cooking at home, it is a definitive roast chicken recipe. So says Jesse Tyler Ferguson, the Modern Family star and newly minted cookbook author.

He and his co-author and great friend Julie Tanous spent significant time considering what roast bird they would showcase in Food Between Friends: A Cookbook, which hit bookstores earlier this month.

“We realised: At this point, everyone has a roast chicken, so we needed to figure out which we want to present to the world,” says Ferguson. Their selection is “Winner Winner Chicken Dinner,” a glorious bird that is brined in buttermilk for super-moist meat and crisp skin the colour of mahogany.

It’s a recipe inspired by Tanous’s Alabama childhood and her mom’s roast chicken, made special by the addition of condiment Dale’s Steak Seasoning, which was first bottled in Birmingham, Alabama in 1946.

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She says that as she got older, she realised that there were options that included less sodium and corn syrup and began experiments that eventually yielded what follows. No one should have high expectations about a cookbook co-written by a TV star, so it is a lovely surprise to see how well this book works on a lot of levels.

It has got some of the more entertaining headnotes and directions you will read (“Tying up the chicken’s legs for roasting is ‘putting it under house arrest’”). It also contains authoritative, well-written recipes that run the gamut from baked chicken tenders (Ferguson calls them “kryptonite” for his husband Justin Mitka) to less expected options such as chile relleno meatloaf, grouper and grits, spiced up with a homemade version of Old Bay and ground beef and pickle tacos inspired by beloved, now-shuttered Los Angeles spot, Malo.

It also has an unexpected eureka moment. Tanous, a recipe developer, did not teach Ferguson how to cook — although she was there to help him with some of the culinary world’s bigger challenges, such as pie crusts.

What they both learned was how to cook with someone, which is no small thing (see the past year’s lockdown jostling in the kitchen). It is a lesson that can’t come a moment too soon, even as the world slowly opens up. “Cooking with someone is a really intimate thing. It requires mutual respect, trust, and most important chemistry”, they write in the book.

“It also requires a sense of humour when you’ve reached the end of a long day in the kitchen together and all you have to show for it is a wildly burnt chicken.” He adds: “That’s what wine is for.”

Which brings us back to their (not wildly burnt) chicken. As the pair notes, buttermilk roasted chicken is not new: The great Samrin Nosrat, fellow TV star and author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat has a tremendous version.

Tanous and Ferguson’s innovation is to set the bird on a bed of large croutons instead of a rack before cooking. As the lemon and garlic-stuffed bird roasts, tangy chicken juices flow into the toasted bread. It is hard to decide which to rip into first, the outrageous skin or the crispy, fatty, crunchy croutons.

Both Ferguson and Tanous say the recipe helped them get through the pandemic as a go-to dish, with an uncomplicated set of ingredients, that yields leftovers.

But do not expect any crouton leftovers, they are simply too addictive. Tanous has tried addressing the problem by doubling the amount of baguette you use, but it simply will not fit in the roasting skillet. “Grab them fast before someone else does,” she adds.