Monday, August 27, 2012

A Chicken in Every Pot

Or, in this case, every oven, because today, dear readers, you are going to learn how to make the best roast chicken ever.  Personally, I think being able to roast a chicken is one of those basic things that everyone needs to know how to do.  And here's a secret: it's not that hard, I promise.

The important part of roasting a chicken is making sure it stays nice and juicy, without the breast meat drying out to sawdust. "Easier said than done," you say. I'm sure there's a lot of science and stuff behind all the theories of what temperature and how long and all that, but all I can give you is what my experience has shown me, which is hight heat, then lower heat.  Bam!  That's it, really. Oh! and fat.  But we'll get to that in a minute.

Some of you might be saying, "Wait!  Don't you have to truss the bird?" Well, my friends, I'm going to confess that, no, I don't always truss the bird. If someone can show me that it actually makes a difference in how it turns out, I will keep an open mind, but I have had good results, regardless of whether I'd strung up the chicken or not.  There you have it, folks.  Another myth, busted.

The other key to success, for me, is having a meat thermometer that you can put in the chicken while it's in the oven. I like the kind that keeps the read out on the stove, with the probe (hate that word) in the chicken while it's still in the oven.  Here's my thermometer:

Now, you don't have to have that to make great roast chicken, but it takes a lot of the guesswork (and too many opening and closing of the oven door) out of making sure the thing is done. It's not that expensive and lasts a long time (I've had mine for nearly 15 years and counting).

Just one more thing before we get to the actual recipe: people will get in a lather over is whether the chicken is organic or not.  Honestly, I can't taste much of a difference, but if I can afford organic or locally-raised, that's what I would go for.  Mainly because I like to eat the skin, so I hope that the organic stuff has fewer nasty things lurking around the skin and fat.  That being said, I have eaten, and roasted, plenty of non-organic chickens and lived to tell the tale, so I'm not making judgements one way or another.  Just one more thing to note, though.  Some chickens might have additional brine/salt-water injected into them, so this affects the saltiness.  If the package says anything about salt solutions or injections, be careful about the additional salt you rub in to the skin.

Okay, on to the recipe...

Easy Roasted Chicken

1 3-4 lb chicken, patted dry
Large bunch of herbs (thyme, rosemary, parsley are best, either one or a mixture), rinsed and patted dry
2-3 Tbsp butter (softened) or olive oil
2 lemons, quartered (before you quarter them, peel off some of the lemon rind, about 1 tsp)
Salt and pepper
1-2 onions (one if the onion is very large, otherwise you might need two if they're small-sh), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
Other assorted veggies if you like

Preheat oven to 450 degrees (F). While the oven is preheating, combine the butter (or olive oil), lemon peel, salt and 1 tsp of herbs. Rub the chicken with the butter mixture, making sure to get all surfaces, plus rub a little under the skin covering the breasts.  Alternatively, you can just tuck the lemon peel and herbs under the skin, then rub the plain butter or oil over the skin.  Rub some salt and pepper (the amount is up to you) onto the chicken as well.

This was my abbreviated version -- just rubbed the butter on the skin (unfortunately, my butter wasn't softened, so it was more clumpy)....

Toss the onions, half a lemon (chunked up) and any other veggies you want to use (I'll sometimes roast carrots and potatoes with the chicken) in the bottom of a roasting pan, then place the chicken, breast side down, on top of the veggies.  The vegetables will act as a sort of rack to allow some heat to circulate under the chicken.  Loosely stuff the cavity (be sure you have taken out the little package that had the neck, liver, and heart -- but save the neck for later, we're making chicken stock!) with herbs, a couple of pieces of lemon and a few pieces of onion (you can also use cloves of garlic instead of the onion, if you like). Be sure not to stuff the cavity too tightly, though, because it will make it harder for the chicken to finish cooking. You will want the heat to get in there as well.

Put the chicken in the oven, rack in the center, and bake at 450 for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, flip the bird (ha!) over, so that the breast is up, insert the thermometer in the thigh and close the door.  If the skin is looking dry, feel free to baste the chicken using some of the juices in the pan, but you should only need to do that once.  Try to keep the oven door closed and the heat in.  Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees (F) and bake for about 40-50 more minutes, or until the thermometer registers 170 (degrees F).  If you don't have a meat thermometer, check doneness by moving the chicken leg -- it should move easily and nearly separate from the thigh bone if you twist it.  You can also pierce the thigh with a fork or knife -- if the juices are clear and not at all pink, it should be done.

Remove the chicken from the oven, then tent with a large piece of foil and let rest for 15-20 minutes (the foil should be laid loosely over the chicken, still in the pan, to let some of the steam escape -- don't wrap the foil around to completely cover).

There you have it!  That's all there is to it.  Quick prep, then let it sit in the oven.  And beats the crap out of those rotisserie chickens at the store that have been sitting around all day.  Oh!  And save the chicken carcass (bones) when you are done.  You can use that to make your own chicken stock later.  I'll show you how!

Also, all that dark stuff that looks burnt on the bottom? Save that, too, because it's going to help flavor the chicken stock. Yum! As you can tell, I've already started picking at the chicken skin.  It's so good!

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