Roast Chicken

It's been said that every home cook should have a good roast chicken in his/her repertoire.  I agree heartily!  It is one of the most simple things to make, it's delicious, healthy, economical and something everyone loves to eat (and smell cooking).

Now, go ahead and start the "but the grocery store rotisserie chickens are so tasty and cheap on sale and easy and convenient."  I'll listen.  And now I'm done listening.

Yes, they can be cheap.  Yes, if you're in the store and need a quick dinner, they are terribly convenient.  And yes, many of them taste just great.  We here at the Sassy house have eaten our fair share of them, and will likely continue to do so. 

What's cheap?  A good quality rotisserie chicken without nasty MSG and caramel color and "solution" injections costs $10 at my health food store, here in Minnesota.  My complaint is the SIZE.  We've got six sassy and hungry kids who need more than a 3 1/2 pound chicken for dinner.  We have made a meal out of one, with plenty of side dishes, but it barely works.  $10 for 3 pounds of cooked meat, including bones, isn't that cheap.  Even for a smaller family, you're left without any yummy "tomorrow" options.

To me, the main purpose of choosing to be the best home cook I can be, is to enjoy the process of it all.  I really, really do enjoy the process.  Planning, shopping, prepping, cooking and eating.  It's fun.  And ultimately satisfying.

So I buy chickens two at a time, usually.  If I can get them 4-5 pounds rather than the 3-pounders, I'm very happy!  It means one good meal with plenty of leftovers for soup, stir-fry, sandwiches, whatever we like.  And it means more BONES for yummy BROTH.

Start to finish the process takes about 2 hours.  Whatever you've imagined about roasting your own chicken might be different than how I do it.  Give it a try this way, and see if you enjoy the results.  And for my friend Julie who asked about whole chicken in the crock pot?  Not my favorite way to do it, unless it's a tougher, uber-natural-farm-raised chicken that does well with longer, slower cooking.  I like brown, crispy skin.  Crock pot makes nice, tender and juicy chicken that falls off the bones.

Thaw your chicken(s) if need be, and remove the packet in the cavity.  If you are into organs and such, have a good time with the contents of that packet.  If there's a neck in there, toss it into your freezer bag of broth-makers.  Washing the chicken is recommended by the health people, but I buy organic and clean chickens so I've been known to skip the step.  I once heard Jacques Pepin tell Julia Child (on TV) that he doesn't rinse his chicken, because if the bacteria survives 400 degrees for a couple hours, it deserves to live and make him sick :)  Rather cavalier, eh?

Get your oven preheated to 400 degrees.  Yep, not 350.  You'll be just fine, and you'll love the crispy skin!  Put plenty of salt and pepper in that chicken cavity, then put the chicken in your roasting pan (it should have sides that come 1/2 to 3/4 the way up the bird).  From here, there are a variety of flavors and ingredients you can use. 

I like to take a lemon and cut it in half, squeezing the juice on the bird.  Then I put one of those halves up the business end of that chicken, poor thing.  There's a reason that cavity is there - use it!  I also like to put herbs in the cavity.  A few sprigs of fresh thyme, parsley, and/or oregano are all great.  Thyme is my favorite.  I put more of the fresh or dried herbs, chopped and scattered on top of and around the pan.  At this point, add more salt and pepper to the outside of the bird.  Ready for the fun part?  Take many, many whole cloves of garlic, at least 10-20, peel them, and scatter them in the pan (a couple in the cavity is nice, too).  We use a lot because we love to eat them!  They get soft, brown, caramely, sweet and mellow.  So tasty!

The final bit of goodness is butter, about a half stick.  I've never been great at the "rubbing all over" part because the butter gets clumpy when it encounters the cold chicken flesh.  So I cut the butter into a few pats and lay it on the chicken.  Now - for the cooking!

Put that roasting pan in the oven and let it cook!  Yes, it's that complicated.  After about 30 minutes, you can baste or spoon the pan juices onto the chicken.  I like to tilt the pan to get the juice to run out of the cavity, too.  If the pan seems dry, add a bit of water, but no more than a half-cup.  You can then baste every 20 minutes or so.  The skin should be getting nice and brown and the liquid should be accumulating in the pan. 

If you're doing one larger bird (4-5 pounds) it might take the full two hours.  Done to me is clear juice when the thigh is pricked, a leg that is easy to move in the socket, and whatever your instant-read thermometer tells you is done for chicken.  Remember, it's going to rest for 20 minutes and it will continue to cook during that time!  I find 2 birds of 4 pounds each take about 2 or 2 1/2 hours at my house. 

On to the platter they go.  Cover with foil and set aside.  Don't forget to put the hunks of garlic on the platter!  Now take a good look at that roasting pan on your stove top - look at all that goodness in the pan!  Pick out or strain the chunks of skin or meat, or herb twigs, or whatever else looks disagreeable.  Then turn on a stove burner and get the liquid simmering.  Oops - before you do that, tilt the pan and spoon off the layer of fat from the surface. 

Simmering.  Now add some white wine, a half cup or so.  Simmer a bit more, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan to get all the brown goodness into your gravy.  Depending upon how much liquid is in there at this point, you may want to add some chicken broth to round it all out.  At this point, thicken!  With what is up to you - a slurry of broth or water and flour is common, or water and corn starch.  I've discovered about 2 tablespoons of butter mashed on a plate with 2 tablespoons of flour is a great way to thicken.  There's a fancy French word for this stuff.  Drop by teaspoon amounts and whisk into the simmering liquid - when it gets to your liking, you stop dropping!  If you want a bit of romance, stir in 1/4 cup of cream or milk and call it good.  Taste it, add any seasoning it's missing, and strain it into a gravy-serving-accoutrament.

Total time?  10 minutes of prep, 2 hours of cooking, 5 minutes for the sauce.  Your family will love you.

Do you like mushrooms?  Add some whole or halved button or crimini mushrooms for the last hour of roasting.  What about potatoes and carrots?  Put them in at the beginning.  Do you love southwestern-spice flavor?  Change up the seasonings!  If mustard suits you, add a couple tablespoons to the gravy.  Pearl onions are lovely in the pan with the chicken, and get brown and soft and oh-so-sweet.

Roast chicken is on the menu here tomorrow night for dinner, along with spaghetti squash and some rosemary bread from the store.  Might have to use rosemary in my chicken cavity . . .
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