Sunday, March 16, 2014

How to Roast a Chicken

Oops, it's been a while. A really long while. I'll spare you the details (it's nothing tragic), but I'll confess that part of it is laziness. And a full-time job. And a wedding to plan. And. And. And.

So the other day some colleagues and I were discussing the ins and outs of roasting a whole chicken. I said I thought it was super-easy and really delicious, but my colleagues had questions about the process, and had experienced failure enough times that they didn't think they were willing to take another stab at it. I hadn't planned to write about it, but I was suddenly feeling inspired by these women, so here goes.

Whether or not you choose to buy organic, free range chicken is really up to you. It costs more than conventional chicken for sure. But it is also never fed GMO feed, or ground-up animal parts, or feed with any vile pesticides or fertilizers. The chickens themselves are allowed to walk, run, preen, dust themselves, etc. You know, like real chickens. 

The ingredients for this dish are simple and you already have them in your kitchen: about a tablespoon of butter, and about a half-teaspoon each of salt, pepper, paprika, and whichever herb you like best. I used a pinch of thyme and some oregano here, but I have used rosemary, tarragon, and dried basil also. You can adjust the amount of each spice as you see fit. (I used to drizzle a little olive oil on the chicken, but then I saw a Julia Child episode where she roasted a chicken and rubbed, like, 20 pounds of butter on the chicken instead, so now I do it this way too.)

The process is also simple. No seriously, even the Texan can do it. He kept exclaiming how easy and delicious it was after his first attempt. I totally agreed.

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. 
2. Rinse the chicken (run a little water inside the body cavity too). Remove the bag of organs if included. 
3. Drip or pat the chicken dry. No need to be all OCD about this. Just blot a little and move on. Cut off any obvious blobs of fat, which usually occur at the tail end. Place in roasting pan, breast side DOWN. Julia Child says this keeps the moisture in the breast meat, which is right where you want it.
4. Rub the butter into the skin in chunks. My pats of butter don't always stick, so I usually wind up with several pats near the top. I figure this is fine because the butter is going to drip down the body of the chicken as soon as it goes in the oven anyway. Sprinkle some of the spice mixture on top. 
5. Place on middle rack in oven and roast for 90-120 minutes, depending on the size of your bird. It is safely cooked once the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. You can baste the chicken once or twice if you like. More is not necessary. To do this, use either a large spoon or turkey baster and spoon some of the drippings onto the top of the bird, coating the skin. This will result in a crispy-on-the-outside-but-moist-on-the-inside skin.
6. I boil a kettle of water to pour in my sink after I've rinsed the chicken to kill salmonella and other creepy germs. You can also use bleach but bleach is so not environmentally friendly. 
7. I put the organs in a little pot with water, and cook them over very low heat for a while. My dog and cats love a bit of this in their dinner too.

You don't need all that fat rendered off into your pan, so remove the glob!

Buttered, spiced, and ready to roast.

I put a piece of tin foil under the pan so the fat splatterings don't spray all over my oven. Trust me, it's a pain to scrub later. Technically, you aren't supposed to do this because it interferes with even heat distribution, but I do it anyway.

I used to throw root vegetables in the pan with the chicken to roast, but I found that some pieces of potato or carrot or beet were done, while others were too firm. So now I toss them in a single layer on a baking sheet with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, praprika, and whatever herb I'm in the mood for. I stick them on that top rack for about 20-25 minutes, and they are done perfectly.

Digital thermometers are easy to use and inexpensive: this one was $10 at Sur La Table. Be sure to insert the probe far enough to measure the center of the meat, where it heats up slowest. Here I put it into the center of the thigh.

The bird will shrink a bit when it is cooking.

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Leave the meat you aren't eating on the body until you need it. Otherwise all the juices run right out, making your meat dry. I like to carve off (and eat) the legs first, then the wings, then the breast meat. We usually have some breast meat left for a meal the next night, such as chicken pot pie, chicken enchiladas, or chicken soup. The Texan and I can usually get 8 meals out of a single chicken, which makes this a great choice for weeknight meals with enough left for lunch.

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