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story.lead_photo.caption Buttermilk Roasted Chicken With Crunchy Croutons. The big question: Which to eat first, the chicken skin or the crusty, fatty croutons? (Bloomberg photo by Kate Krader)

If there's one thing that everyone should have to show for themself after a year of cooking at home, it's 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" (Penguin Random House; $35) which hit bookstores in March. "We realized: 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's brined in buttermilk for super-moist meat and crisp skin the color of mahogany. It's a recipe inspired by Tanous's Alabama childhood and her mom's roast chicken, made special by the addition of local condiment Dale's Steak Seasoning, which was first bottled in Birmingham, Ala., in 1946. She says that as she got older, she realized 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's a lovely surprise to see how well this book works on a lot of levels. It's got some of the more entertaining headnotes and directions you'll read. (Tying up the chickens legs for roasting is "putting it under house arrest.") And it 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, didn't 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's 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 humor 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's 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 don't expect any crouton leftovers; they're simply too addictive. Tanous has tried addressing the problem by doubling the amount of baguette you use, but it simply won't fit in the roasting skillet. "Grab them fast before someone else does," she advises.

The following recipe is adapted from "Food Between Friends," by Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Julie Tanous.

Buttermilk Roasted Chicken

With Crunchy Croutons

Serves 4

2 cups buttermilk

2 tbsp. kosher salt, plus more for seasoning

4 sprigs fresh rosemary

1 (3- to 4-pound) whole roasting chicken

1 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil

1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges

8 garlic cloves, smashed

1 (10-ounce) baguette, cut or torn into 1-inch cubes

4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the buttermilk, the 2 tbsp. of salt, and 1 sprig of rosemary in a gallon-size zippered plastic bag and shake to distribute the salt. Add the chicken, seal the bag, and gently shake and massage to fully coat the chicken. Marinate breast side down in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, or overnight. About 1 hour before roasting, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 425F. Pour the oil into a large cast-iron skillet and heat in the oven for 10 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the buttermilk, letting as much marinade as possible drip off; discard the bag and marinade. Lightly pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Stuff the cavity with the lemon wedges, 4 of the garlic cloves, and 1 sprig of rosemary. Tie the chicken legs together at the tips with twine.

Carefully spread the bread cubes in the hot skillet in a single layer, turning to coat with the oil. Top with the remaining 2 sprigs of rosemary and nestle the remaining 4 garlic cloves among the cubes. Set the chicken on the bread cubes and brush all over with the melted butter, getting all the sides and crevices. Generously season the chicken all over with salt and pepper, and tuck the wing tips under the body.

Roast the chicken for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375F and continue roasting for an additional 40 to 60 minutes, tenting with foil if the skin is getting too dark, and transferring any well-browned croutons to a plate. Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the breast registers 150F and the thighs and legs register at least 165F.

Remove the chicken from the oven and let rest in the pan for 15 minutes. Carve the chicken directly over the croutons and let those juices flow. Serve with the croutons.

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