Sunday, January 22, 2006

Recipe: Simple Roast Chicken

Want a really simple, inexpensive, quick and easy, delicious meal? Hey, roast a chicken!

For years, roast chicken was a relatively rare meal in our house because we always had to do stuffing and gravy and three vegetables and cranberry sauce (the jellied kind, out of a can, but still, one more must-have item . . .) and turn the thing into a major feast.

In fact, I once saw a show on the Food Network about Roast Chicken. Tyler Florence (I think) had to travel the world over to figure out how to roast a chicken. Now don’t get me wrong: all the chickens he met were wondrous creations, worthy of at least 30 minutes (or maybe it was an hour – I don’t know) of airtime. But, really . . .

Then one day, an aberration struck. Those little pre-cooked rotisserie chickens in the hot case at the supermarket. Hmmmm. If they can do it, why can't I?

Well, you can . . .

here's what you'll need . . .

1 cheap chicken (don't go for the 'oven stuffer' or even a 'roaster;' go for the cheapest whole chicken in the case! A 3 lb. chicken serves two with serious leftovers or serves 4 with the bones picked clean)
1 carrot
1 small onion
other stuff if you wish

Here's how you do it.

Pre-heat your oven to 400° F.

Whack the ends off the carrot and trim the stem and tail off the onion. You don’t have to peel either one - they're just going to be thrown out later – though I usually take the skin off the onion (and we never peel carrots!). Cut them both up into chunks (and inch or so).

Roast Chicken Veggies

Give your chicken a thorough wash, and yank out any extra fat or other nasty bits the butcher may have left behind. Pat the bird dry with a paper towel.

Dust the interior with some finely ground Tellicherry. And/or, some other stuff. Here, I decided to use some poultry seasoning and some rubbed sage. Other times, I’ve used cumin or cayenne pepper or rosemary and thyme or oregano and basil or . . . Avoid the urge to salt the interior, though. It just draws out all the juices and adds nothing to the flavor.

Roast Chicken Season Inside

Toss the carrot and onion chunks into the cavity and push, fold, prod, or otherwise try to get any loose skin over the opening. If you can’t, don’t worry about it. Who cares if a piece of carrot or onion falls out during roasting, won’t hurt a thing.

Cram in the veggies

Fold the wing tips under the bird,

Fold the wings under

and toss it into the roasting pan. You can use a rack if you wish, or not. The smaller birds have much less of that ‘pumped-up’ fat that cooks out of the larger birds, so you don’t need to worry about your dinner ‘boiling in oil’ as it were. If you absolutely cannot cook a bird without salt, now’s the time. Rub some olive oil all over the top of the bird and judiciously sprinkle a little coarse (Kosher) salt on the skin. The oil will prevent the salt from dissolving (immediately) in the juices from the chicken, and if you baste gently (see below), you can avoid washing it off. (And, yes, I always toss an extra hunk of onion into the roasting pan for gravy flavor later.)

Ready to Roast

Into the oven for an hour or two depending on your oven, the size of the bird, how 'dried out' you prefer your chicken, the phase of the moon . . . After the first 15 minutes, baste the bird every 10 or 15 minutes until it's done.

Here’s my beast after 1 hour.

Roast Chicken after 1 hour

And here, after two hours (and declared done),

Roast Chicken after 2 hours

If you’re nervous about raw poultry, or a stickler for detail, or an engineer (and do check out that Cooking for Engineers blog; there’s a lot of good stuff over there!), poke your bird with a thermometer. If it’s around 175° F, you can yank the bird. Its temperature will continue to rise another 5° or more while it rests, which will bring it to the final temperature of about 180° F.

When the bird is done to your liking, pull it out, throw away the onion and carrot, and have a wonderful meal.

Roast Chicken Served
(Yeah, ok, so I did two veggies and gravy; it's still a simple meal . . .)

Now there are, of course, 3497 variations on this theme, all of which are wonderful. Some of them are equally simple, some are not; it’s all up to you. Go play . . .

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