Sunday, January 20, 2008

Easy Does It

There are only a few things in life that produce complete comfort and satisfaction with truly minimal effort. A roast chicken is one of them. All I have to do is rub some olive oil on the chicken, sprinkle it with salt, put something aromatic in the inside, and stash it in the oven for a few hours, and the outcome is consistently fabulous. It never ceases to amaze me. It was a standard supper in our house when I was growing up—one of my favorite things my mom made.

Please don’t think I’ve never gotten a rotisserie chicken from the deli counter. I have, and they’re not bad. But if you’ve never made a roast chicken, you’re missing one of the fundamental kitchen pleasures. Though insanely simple, I am convinced it is the way chicken was meant to be eaten. Plus, a deli-made chicken doesn’t fill the kitchen (and the house) with a mouthwatering aroma.

I must confess I am not usually a huge fan of chicken. I eat it a lot, sure, but the actual meat isn’t usually the main attraction for me. I eat fried chicken for the skin, chicken soup for the broth, and so on. But I eat roast chicken for the meat. (And the super-crisp skin, but that’s just a bonus.) If you think I’m overdoing it, waxing poetic about a roast bird, you obviously haven’t made one yet. It’s become something of a Sunday night tradition for Jason and me. Don’t be surprised if you crave it weekly, as well!

There’s really no recipe to apply here. I’ll just give you the rough outline I follow each time I roast a chicken. Feel free to adjust according to your taste. But do try it—you’ll be so glad you did. Roast some veggies at the same time (our favorite is Brussels sprouts...) for a simple dinner.

Simple Roast Chicken
serves 2-4 depending on size
1 whole boiler-fryer chicken
A good glug of olive oil
A few hefty pinches of Kosher salt
About 10 grinds of black pepper
Dried or fresh herbs (chopped if fresh)
Stuffing options:
A lemon, cut into a few pieces
Some garlic cloves, smashed
A small onion, cut into a few pieces
Whole sprigs of fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, parsley…)
A few big pinches of dried herbs (I like herbes de Provence)
An apple, cut into pieces
An orange, cut into pieces

Heat your oven to 400 degrees.

Pat chicken dry with paper towels and set it, breast-side up, in a roasting pan. Tuck the tips of the wings underneath the bird. They’ll burn otherwise. Drizzle with olive oil and rub it all over, top and bottom. With your fingers, gently loosen the skin from the meat on the breast and rub oil under there, too. Don’t be shy about it, but don’t go too nuts with the oil either—if you use too much, it will just fill the oven with smoke. Use just enough to thoroughly coat the chicken.

Next, sprinkle the outside of the chicken with a good pinch of salt. Sprinkle on some pepper, and some herbs. Rub the salt, pepper, and herbs all over the chicken, and under the skin, as well. Sometimes I take a smashed, peeled garlic clove and rub it under the skin.

Next, take another hefty pinch of salt and sprinkle it all over the inside of the bird. Do the same with the pepper and more herbs. Then stuff the inside with whatever you think might taste good. My mom used apples when I was little. My dad loves to use citrus. (If using citrus give each piece a little squeeze before it goes in.) I use whatever I have on hand, but I always use a few cloves of smashed garlic. Make sure you put those toward the back so they can infuse the whole chicken. Most recipes suggest you tie the drumsticks together with twine. I don’t do this, and I haven’t found it to be detrimental to the outcome.

Cook in the center of the oven about 20-25 minutes per pound, or until the leg pulls effortlessly away from the body and the juices run clear. (Use a thermometer if you don’t want to rely on the leg pull. Take it out when it reaches 165 degrees.) If the skin gets too dark, tent with some foil while it finishes cooking. When you take it out, let it rest under some foil for about 10 minutes so it stays nice and juicy.

C’est magnifique!

(It took me a while to figure out the whole carving thing. I’m still working on perfecting my form, but you can watch this video for great step-by-step instructions.)

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