In the inspired hands of chef Billy Grant, chicken becomes a robust, flavor-filled feast. “There’s nothing better than a well-executed roasted chicken with perfect crispy skin, juicy meat, and tangy salsa verde served over creamy polenta,” says Grant, owner of Bricco Trattoria in Glastonbury and Restaurant Bricco in West Hartford. “I take the time to let the chicken sit and absorb the flavorful brine while allowing it to naturally tenderize, which leads to roasted chicken that, although basic, lights up people’s appetites.”

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Billy Grant

Cooking every day for the past 25 years, Grant knows how the best ingredients and the right techniques can achieve perfection on a plate. “Delicious roasted chicken is about cooking it just right — brining, roasting, and not overcooking — and using organic, hormone-free, free-range chicken,” he says, noting that brining adds better flavor with the herbs and spices penetrating the skin.

Grant’s Italian-American heritage comes through in his own version of salsa verde, and in all his dishes. “My cooking is simple, fresh and a little bit rustic with some elegance to it,” says Grant, who helped former first lady Michelle Obama launch “Let’s Move!,” a program to fight childhood obesity.

Grant’s cooking career began at age 14 alongside his father and brothers. “There’s something special about people coming together and sharing food,” he says. “It’s difficult times, but we’re keeping people safe. To still do what I love to do and provide a service, I feel blessed.” Pamela Brown

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Roasted chicken with salsa verde and mascarpone polenta

Servings: 4-6 • Preparation time: 1 hour plus overnight brining

INGREDIENTS

2 (3½-4-pound) chickens, cut into quarters, leaving 4 breasts, 4 legs and 4 thighs 

For the chicken brine 

2 quarts water

1 cup kosher salt

¼ cup honey

1 lemon, sliced

1 shallot, sliced

5 garlic cloves, smashed

2 sprigs thyme

4 sage leaves 

2 sprigs rosemary

1 teaspoon chili flakes

1 tablespoon black peppercorns 

2 quarts ice

For the salsa verde

2 loose cups fresh basil leaves

¼ cup olive oil

1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese (optional)

1 teaspoon pine nuts (optional)

½ cup pitted green olives

1 tablespoon capers

1 small shallot, diced and finely chopped

1 garlic clove, diced and finely chopped

1 bunch parsley, finely chopped

1 loose cup fresh arugula, finely chopped

¼ cup golden raisins (run under hot water to soften)

Zest of 1 lemon

½ teaspoon Calabrian chili paste (or red pepper flake)

For the mascarpone polenta

3 cups chicken stock (homemade or no-sodium canned)

3 cups milk

2 cloves garlic, smashed

1 bay leaf

1 sprig rosemary

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1¼ cups instant polenta

2 tablespoon mascarpone

¼ cup Parmesan (add more if you like it cheesy)

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DIRECTIONS

For the brine and chicken

Place all brine ingredients in a large potand bring to a simmer, then shut off. 

Pour ingredients into a gallon container and add ice. Give the brine a quick stir and allow to cool. 

When the brine is cooled, place the chicken in a bowl or container and pour the brine over it. Place the chicken in the fridge and brine for at least 12-24 hours. 

Two hours prior to cooking, pull the chicken out of the brine, pat dry with a towel, and place on a dish. 

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. 

Season chicken generously with salt and pepper (or your favorite chicken spice). Coat a sheet tray with pan spray (or use a roast rack) and lay the chicken, skin side up, preventing the chicken pieces from touching. If necessary, use two sheet trays.

Place chicken in the oven and cook for 14 minutes. Flip the pieces and cook for an additional 12 minutes or until the internal temperature is 165 degrees. Remove tray from the oven and place the chicken skin side up.

For the salsa verde

In a food processor, add the basil leaves and olive oil. Blend until basil leaves are finely chopped. Add the cheese and pine nuts, if using, and blend for 5 seconds. Scrape pesto from the processor into a mixing bowl. Add olives and capers and blend until diced. Add this mixture to the pesto.

To this mixture, add the shallot, garlic, parsley, arugula, and drained golden raisins, mixing with a spoon. Add the lemon zest and chili paste, mixing well until completely blended. Use at room temperature. If making it ahead, store in the refrigerator.

For the mascarpone polenta

In a large saucepan, bring the chicken stock, milk, garlic, bay leaf, rosemary and salt to a simmer. Let sit 10 minutes then strain.

Bring mixture to a boil. While whisking, slowly shower in the polenta. Once all the polenta is in, immediately lower the burner to its lowest setting, stirring constantly with a spatula for about 5 minutes until the polenta thickens. 

Remove from the stove and add the mascarpone and Parmesan; stir well. Taste and add more salt, if desired.

Chef’s tip: You can also substitute butter for the mascarpone to create a creamier, richer polenta.

TO SERVE

Generously ladle the salsa verde over the chicken and serve the polenta on the side. Give a squeeze of fresh lemon juice over the top for a little bite.

Pamela Brown is a former English professor, a freelance writer, a marketing/PR specialist for the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement, and author of Faithful Love, her first novel that inspired a love of writing. Pamela resides in Connecticut with her daughter, Alexis, who makes her life an adventure. 

This article appears in the January 2021 issue of Connecticut MagazineYou can subscribe to Connecticut Magazine here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get our latest and greatest content delivered right to your inbox. Have a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram @connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.