nosh friday: perfect roast chicken
I’m not much of a carnivore but I truly love a good roast chicken. I firmly believe that a proper roast chicken can be the keystone to a wonderful and elegant meal, as well as stretch handily over several dinners. Not only can you use the meat from the chicken, but you can use the veggies you roast under it, the bones for stock, and the rendered fat for sauteeing veggies for soup. It’s truly a useful thing to have tucked in your repetoire of cooking staples.
I’ve tried a handful of recipes over the last year or so, keeping my nose and eyes alert for the best roast chicken recipe. Everyone seems to have their own way of doing it properly — some spout the gospel of turning the chicken this way and that, others love stuffing it with lemons and herbs, and still others swear up, down and sideways to roasting it in milk or basting it with butter. I’ve gone to the tried-and-true gospels of Julia Child, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver and the Barefoot Contessa, and I have to say, this recipe has remained my favorite.
(And coincidentally, it’s also the easiest. How convenient!)
Based on the recipe of the marvelous Jamie Oliver (whose feet I would willingly kiss, I love him so), this roast chicken couldn’t be simpler or more delicious. It’s entirely fuss-free — no basting, no turning the chicken halfway through, no complicated rubs or marinades. This is the kind of gem you can throw together in five minutes after a long day and less than an hour and a half later, be pulling a golden, crisp chicken from the oven to set on the dinner table.
In this cold and snowy weather (for those of us not lucky enough to live in warmer climes), it is most certainly roast chicken weather. I’ve been making soup like it’s my sole purpose in life lately and let me tell you, soup made with homemade chicken stock and shredded roast chicken is so much better than any gunk you get in a can from a gentleman named Campbell. (This chicken also is splendid for chicken and dumplings.)
Roast ye a chicken — you won’t be sorry.
Perfect Roast Chicken
Adapted from Jamie Oliver
1 3-4 pound whole chicken, preferably hormone-free and free-range
2 carrots, unpeeled
1 onion, skin on
4 cloves garlic, skin on
2 T. poultry seasoning (or a mixture of ground sage, rosemary and thyme)
2 t. salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
Take your chicken out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature, about a half-hour. While your chicken is shedding its fridge chill, preheat your oven to 475 degrees. Take a large roasting pan and drizzle the bottom with olive oil. Chop the carrots into large chunks and drop into the bottom of the roasting pan. (Don’t worry about peeling any of the veg.) Quarter the onion and in the roasting pan, tuck in the garlic cloves along with its friends, carrot and onion. (I’ve also used leeks in place of onions before; if you have extra, use ’em.)
In a small bowl, combine the poultry seasoning, salt and olive oil and stir well, creating a thin paste. Place the chicken breast-side down on the veg in the roasting pan and using your hands, rub the herb paste all over the chicken, outside and also in the cavity.
Slide the chicken in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 400 degrees. Let it roast for about 80 minutes undisturbed and once it’s golden and the internal temperature reads 165 degrees (or if you insert a small knife and the juices run clear, though the temp is really the way to go), take it out and let it rest in the pan for about 15 minutes, so the juices can redistribute and keep the chicken marvelously moist and succulent. (I don’t like either of those adjectives, but in the world of roast chicken, they are desirable, even if icky-sounding.)
Carve your chicken as you like; I tend to let it cool and then shredded the meat with my bare hands, like a barbarian, and use the shredded chicken in soup. Don’t throw away any of the pan juices, roasted veg or bones. You can use the pan juices to make gravy (heat them up in the pan and whisk in a little corn starch mixed with a few tablespoons of cold water, cook till thickened slightly) and they also add a wonderful flavor to homemade chicken stock.
My favorite way of making stock is very simple. Take a large stockpot and tip in all the chicken bones, drippings in the pan, roasted veg, along with a small handful of salt and a tablespoon of whole peppercorns, and fill about 2/3 of the pot with water. Set on the stove, with medium-high heat, and cover. Let it come to a boil, then turn it down to about medium heat and let it go for a few hours. Once it’s a nice amber color, let it cool, then strain the stock into the containers of your choice. I like to use plastic drink pitchers; it’s convenient to pour into soups or to make sauces. It will keep for quite awhile in the fridge. Here’s a handy frugal tip I learned from one of my favorite chef instructors at school: don’t skim and throw away the fat that gathers on the top of the stock once it’s cooled. I skim this off and use it to cook veggies in for soup or pasta; it has a fantastic flavor and is still useful, not garbage.
Welcome to roast chicken utopia. It’s a good place to be.