Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Don't be afraid to roast a chicken

Roast chicken

One of the easiest and homiest meals to make for a dinner party, your family, or just yourself is a roast chicken. The idea of making a whole one apparently scares some people, but I am here to tell you that it is as easy as pie. Okay, wait, not as easy as pie, because many of you are probably scared of making pie too, but don't worry, I'll address that soon! How about as easy as spaghetti?

I roast chickens all the time, sometimes for other people, and sometimes on a Monday night just for me, and I'll feast off the leftovers all week, many times repurposing them into things like chicken pot pie, chicken tacos, chicken salad, chicken sandwiches, you name it. It's also an easy meal for when people are coming over -- when there's a large group of people, I've just put two chickens in the oven at the same time on a big roasting pan, and it works perfectly. And then while the chicken is cooking and resting, you can deal with any of the side dishes, and greeting your guests, and the whole house smells great as they walk in.

A great base recipe is Thomas Keller's, of The French Laundry and Per Se fame. But don't let that put you off! I know he is famous for his oyster and pearls and other super complicated dishes, but this is not one of them. Here's his recipe: take a chicken, as small as you can get it (he wants you to have one for around 3 pounds, but this works for larger ones too); preheat your oven to 450; dry the chicken off really well; salt it well with kosher salt and black pepper; tie the drumsticks together with kitchen twine*; put it in a roasting pan and in the oven, and then walk away, and come back in about an hour. That's all! That's it!

Now, people will freak out about how to know that the chicken is done. A lot of people will tell you to use a meat thermometer here, but though I have a good one, I never use it when I roast a chicken (you can, of course, if you're nervous about that, just make sure that it's in the thickest part of the chicken thigh and not touching the bone, and that it's 165 F). The chicken is generally done when you can wiggle the drumstick and it will easily wiggle for you. But when it hits either 165 or wiggle time, it's not time to cut into the chicken -- that's when you put it on a cutting board, cover it loosely and let it rest -- the chicken will keep cooking as it rests, and then it will be super moist when it's time to eat.

Once you master that basic recipe, though, there are plenty of ways to dress it up and make it your own. I usually bend the wings backward and tuck them under the chicken before roasting, because it makes for a prettier presentation and then the chicken sits a little more upright on the pan like above. I often tuck some herbs down into the skin on the breast, and sometimes I'll start the chicken breast side down and flip it over to make sure that the whole bird cooks evenly -- I usually flip it with my handy kitchen tongs, probably my favorite kitchen tool (get the 12 inch ones, they're the most useful), but you can just use your hands tucked into oven mitts, or a spatula and a long fork. I usually cut up a lemon and tuck it inside and around the bird too, becasue it makes the skin all lemony, but there are about a million ways to flavor it and make yourself happy.

But for all that is good and holy, do yourself a favor and cut up a few potatoes and put them in the roasting pan when you have about 30 minutes left of roasting the chicken. When you take the chicken out of the pan to rest, stir the potatoes around and return them to the oven to keep roasting until they're done. Those potatoes that roast in the chicken fat are some of the best potatoes that you will ever make or eat, trust me.

And with those potatoes, a nice green salad, and some green beans, asparagus, or sauteed kale or chard, depending on the season, you have a fantastic dinner for almost anyone, including one for just yourself.

*Actually, he wants you to truss it, but if you're a beginner, just tying the drumsticks together with kitchen twine works just fine.

1 comment:

  1. Great post - I'm totally afraid of roasting a chicken, it seemed sort of complicated. I had no idea it was so simple! I'll definitely be trying this soon.