As anyone can plainly see from reading this blog, I love roast chicken. It really is one of the easiest things to prepare, and the process of doing so is quite gratifying as well. I love the crackling sound it makes in the oven when it heats up and the fat begins to splatter about the roasting pan. It makes the house smell wonderful too. I much prefer roasting a whole, organic, locally grown, free-range chicken over buying frozen chopped up chicken parts. For one thing, it’s cheaper to buy a whole chicken on the bone. I also like to try and use the whole chicken whenever possible–I despise wasting food. Feeding oneself is expensive enough as it is, no sense in throwing away perfectly good food on top of it. I already mentioned how easy and wonderful it is to roast a chicken. The only thing better? Eating it. It tastes delicious.
I’ve been tweaking and modifying my recipe for roast chicken for a year or so now. I started out following Julia Child’s method of beginning with a hot oven, crisping the exterior of the bird for 15 minutes on it’s back and then also on each side, and then lowering the temperature and repeating the rotation every 20 minutes until done on the inside, all the while basting with an olive oil and butter mixture. While delicious, this proved to be just a hair tedious. I’ve also tried various rubs, as well as stuffing the bird with all sorts of things, or accompanying it with all sorts of vegetables while roasting. But in the end, for me anyway, keeping it simple makes for the best tasting chicken. Here’s my recipe:
- Rinse a 3 1/2 to 4-pound whole, completely defrosted, chicken with cold water, inside and out. Pat dry with paper towels inside and out, and place in a roasting pan. If the chicken came with the giblets, you can place them under the bird in the pan if you wish (and you should if you plan to make a gravy from the drippings).
- Salt the inside of the chicken well.
- Cut a lemon and an entire head of garlic in half. Rub the halves of garlic all over the exterior of the bird. Squeeze one half of the lemon over the bird, and then squeeze the other half inside it. Place half a garlic head, half a squeezed lemon, and another bunch of fresh thyme inside the bird. Tie legs together with twine, string, or rubber bands made for this purpose.
- Finely chop up a bunch of fresh thyme, so that you have about a tablespoon or two. With your fingers, mix in 1-2 teaspoons of course sea salt until it forms a sort of gray-green salt. Sprinkle the mixture all over the bird, gently patting it onto the skin.
- In a small bowl mix 2-3 tablespoons of butter and an equal measure of olive oil. Drizzle about half all over the chicken, but do so carefully so that the salt-thyme rub doesn’t wash off.
- Place the roasting pan in the center of a pre-heated 350-degree oven. Baste with the remaining butter-oil every 20 minutes, roasting for a total of one hour and fifteen minutes, or slightly longer, until the interior of the chicken reaches 160 degrees. I use a meat thermometer as it takes the guessing out of it, and because I despise overcooked meat. It’s recommended that chicken be cooked to 165 degrees, but remember that it continues to cook awhile longer after you remove it from the oven.
- Let the chicken rest for at least ten minutes. If you start carving it right away, you’ll lose all the juice and have a dry chicken on your hands. Besides, it’s hard to carve a hot chicken with bare hands! Also, this gives you plenty of time to bring the rest of your meal together.
- You can easily make a nice gravy to accompany your chicken if you wish. (I use Julia Child’s recipe). Remove all but a couple tablespoons of the fat and oil from the roasting pan. Return to low heat on the stove top. Toss in a tablespoon or two of minced shallot or green onion, cooking slowly for a minute until softened. Add a cup of chicken stock and bring to a boil, letting it reduce by half, while scraping up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat, salt and pepper to taste. Keep it warm in a bowl or gravy boat if you have one, and then just prior to serving, add a few pats of butter and gently incorporate.
- Carving the chicken isn’t difficult, but it does take a few times to get the hang of it if you don’t have a lot of experience. And there are a few ways to do it, so I recommend searching online for a couple videos showing how this is done, and then watching them a few times prior to performing your own surgery. I also recommend having a good sharp chef’s knife in your kitchen, as it’s invaluable for this and many other common tasks.
I usually leave the thigh and leg connected and carve as one piece. I also carve each breast half as one piece. Basically this equates to four nice-sized portions. Oh, and I usually carve off the wings first, and nibble on them as I go about my task. There’s nothing like eating a hot crispy roasted chicken wing fresh out of the oven, juices still dripping!
I’ll often eat a thigh and leg for dinner that night, and then throw the rest in the fridge to eat over the course of the week. Reheating chicken can easily dry it out, so I usually just eat leftovers cold. Sometimes I’ll chop a leftover breast up and throw over a green salad, or mix with a bit of mayo and some chopped onion and celery for a nice chicken salad. There are a lot of ways to eat leftover chicken, use your imagination!
And if you are feeling extra ambitious, save the carcass in a freezer bag and pop in the refrigerator. The next day throw it in a large pot with 8 cups of water, chopped onions, celery, carrots, garlic and thyme, salt and pepper, and/or other herbs if you wish. Bring it to just below a boil and then simmer on low heat (so that just the occasional little bubble breaks the surface) for about 4 hours. Then, after letting it cool slightly, run through a strainer so that just the liquid is left. Let it set and cool until most of the fat rises and settles on the surface, and spoon it off. If you want it extra pure, strain it through a cheesecloth as well. Salt to taste, and voila, you have a few quarts of delicious homemade chicken stock. Refrigerate if you don’t plan to use immediately, or freeze for up to a year.
Now that’s using the whole bird!