December's Can't-Miss Dish

December's Can't-Miss Dish - Roast chicken Boston
Brian Samuels Photography
By Ellen Bhang · 12/01/2021

Looking for a no-fail, mouthwatering, gonna-tell-your-friends-about-it plate? Each month, Boston Globe columnist Ellen Bhang highlights the dish you need to try right now—and something to sip alongside it.

December’s Can’t-Miss Dish


On the plate: Young Chicken with Oat Risotto

Where to find it: If you’re wondering whether it’s possible to improve on a classic roast chicken, pay a visit to Thistle & Leek in Newton Centre. Chefs Kate and Trevor Smith, the wife-and-husband duo who opened the cozy gastropub last fall, take an innovative approach to the golden bird. And who better than this accomplished couple to refresh the dish? Both cooked in high-end kitchens in Europe, Nantucket, and New York before returning to Boston to work for the restaurant group of Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette—Kate was chef de cuisine at Toro, and Trevor was executive chef at Coppa. Now at the helm of their own establishment, the Smiths are bringing all of their fine-dining training to bear on small plates—inspired by dishes they savored at London gastropubs during their honeymoon—none of which you would ever dream to call “pub grub.” 

Notes on the nosh: Like the classic, Thistle & Leek’s roast chicken arrives at the table sporting crisp, golden skin. Seasonal vegetables like chanterelle mushrooms and emerald-hued tatsoi come tucked around the succulent poultry. But you’ll notice right away that this bird is tiny—so small, the whole hen could fit in the palm of your hand.

“It’s technically ‘poussin,’ which is a smaller chicken,” Kate says. (They simply call it Young Chicken on the menu; less “cheffy” vocabulary suits the vibe of the place.) Petite-sized poultry offers two distinct advantages: speedier cooking time and the ability to delight lovers of both white and dark meat. A typical-size roaster takes at least 45 minutes in the oven, the chef explains, necessitating roasting several ahead of time. “But with a young chicken—we cut them in half—you get the leg, the thigh, the breast. And from start to finish, you can roast it in 15 minutes, because it’s so much smaller.”

The burnished bird rests on savory Oat Risotto. The kitchen crew sautées steel-cut oats, nuttier and more substantial than the quick-cook variety, in chicken fat with shallots and herbs.  Chicken stock is added a ladle-full at a time, until the starchy grains transform into a comfortingly creamy finished product, even though there’s no cheese in this version of risotto. Kate confirms that some vigilant stirring is involved. “Just like with rice, you have to keep a close eye on [the oats] to get the right end result.”

The unconventional risotto also happens to celebrate her family’s heritage. “The Scottish love their oats, and a porridge with chicken feels very Scottish,” she says. “It’s very fitting with what we do here.”

Sip alongside: Thistle & Leek’s beverages include a thoughtful selection of cocktails and beer, as well as an array of dry European ciders and Old World wines. A 2019 Dolcetto d’Alba, an exuberant red crafted by much-lauded Italian producer G.D. Vajra, is a terrific example of wines populating the list. The $13 glass pour—full of vivacious cherry flavor, subtle floral scents, and appetizing texture—offers everything you could want alongside the stellar roast chicken.

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