Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Back to Basics: Roast Chicken

With the economy the way it is these days and prices going up everywhere, I thought I’d do a post about one of my favorite “stretch-the-dollar” meals. And that’s a whole roasted chicken.

A whole chicken works out cheaper than buying boneless breasts fillets. You get more meat and the satisfaction of getting a variety of meat instead of just plain white meat. And as a Single Guy, I stretch a whole roasted chicken over several meals, chopping up half for two nights of dinner and using the other half to make chicken salad for lunch. (I’ll be posting my chicken salad recipe next.)

Below are the simple, basic steps to roasting a chicken. It’s a combination of techniques I’ve learned from watching my favorite chefs like Ina Garten and Jamie Oliver and from what I read in cookbooks like the award-winning Zuni Café Cookbook.

I start with a whole chicken that I’ve rinsed and pat dry. (Be sure to remove all the giblets and junk inside the cavity. You can use them to make stock or gravy later.) I salt my chicken 24 hours before I plan to roast it, which is the highly quoted recommendation from Chef Judy Rodgers of the Zuni Café Cookbook. Salting it this early helps seal the flesh so that it’ll stay moist when cooking. I use about 3 teaspoons of coarse sea salt for this chicken that weighed about 4.5 lbs. I made sure to rub the salt underneath the skin to make sure it has contact with the meat. Then I cover it and place it in the refrigerator for the next day.

Before I’m about to cook my chicken, I preheat my oven to 425 degrees. The high heat is another recommendation from Chef Rodgers to help brown the skin. Above is a look at what I plan to stuff inside the cavity. These are ideas I got from Ina Garten who likes to use citrus when roasting her chicken. I love citrus so I put in a mix of orange and lemon quarters along with the traditional celery sticks and some rosemary. As the chicken cooks, the citrus juices infuse into the meat for a really subtle taste. Other things you can add in the cavity include half an onion and a couple of garlic cloves. But really, there’s only so much you can shove in there. (That’s why I cut up the citrus into small quarters to make it easy to fit.)

Bring your chicken out of the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature so that it’s not super cold when going into the oven. After filling the cavity with the items above, then I also squeeze in rosemary twigs and nubs of butter (that’s a Jamie Oliver trick), about 2 to 3 tablespoons, under the skin on both the breast side and the back. I even squeeze in any extra orange segments I might have. As the chicken cooks, the butter melts and in a way acts like a self-basting technique. You see I also trussed the chicken (tied up the legs), but there’s a lot of chefs who recommend not worrying about it. I do it so that the oranges and lemons don’t fall out. You can check out my video on how to truss a chicken. When your chicken’s all ready, pat it dry again and place it in a roasting pan and into the oven to cook at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, I bring out the chicken and flip it over because I want to make sure it cooks golden all around. Here it is with its back to me. I grind some fresh sea salt on top so that the skin will have some nice saltiness for those who like to eat the skin, and then put it back in the oven to cook for another 20-25 minutes. Then I flip it back with the breast up, sprinkle some salt on the breast side and let it finish cooking for another 15 minutes. The cooking time really depends on your chicken, but I’ve found that this 4.5 pound chicken usually cooks between 1 to 1.5 hours, depending on your heat. You can use an internal thermometer to test how done the chicken meat is, but I use the old fashion technique of inserting a small knife between the thigh and checking to see that the liquid flowing out is clear. That’s when I know it’s done.

You want to have a nice golden brown skin for your chicken. (Actually, I think mines turned out a bit dark because of the butter.) When done cooking, let it rest for about 15-25 minutes so the juices will settle. Then remove the twine if you trussed your chicken and toss out everything in the cavity and under the skin. You can use any of the drippings from your roasting pan as a base for gravy.

So a whole roasted chicken can serve about four people, or if you’re cooking for yourself you can split it into several dinners. Here I have a quarter of my roasted chicken along with some roasted rosemary potatoes and sautéed broccoli. Enjoy!

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