February 2nd, 2009

Just Us Chickens: a roast chicken primer

In one of the recipes from her memoir Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl writes that all you need is a good free-range chicken, a little salt, pepper and lemon to have a splendid roast—and I agree, to a point. The free-range chicken is key. So impressed with the size and quality offered by Weldon Hawkins of Emerald Glen Farms, I purchased one of his big free-rangers and gave it to my friend Lou for her birthday—a gift that at first had her a bit miffed when she held up the clumsily wrapped bag with a frozen six pound lump bulging out the bottom.
( A chicken? For my birthday?)
Later, she cooked it for friends and family.
(Oooh, that truly was the best. chicken. ever!)

Sadly, not everyone has access —either logistically or financially—to this most exceptional of birds. Mindful of these inequities in the world of good food, I straddle both sides of the discourse: if you can, buy fresh, local, fair, sustainable; if not, buy what’s available —and do the best you can with it.

Whether you have a chicken that was lovingly raised roaming the range of a local farm or one that has endured a more comprised life, you can easily transform it into the centerpiece of a great dinner. I rely on a mixture of kosher salt, olive oil, garlic, and fresh herbs. And, the herbs–used either solo or in combination– all yield tasty results. ( I have pots of sage, thyme, and rosemary that keep producing through the winter months. I encourage everyone to grow-your-own; it’s simple, cost-effective, and fun.)

The trick is in slipping the mixture underneath the skin so that the flavors baste and roast directly onto the meat. Placing lemon and sturdy vegetable pieces into the cavity of the chicken adds wonderful aromatics, and further enhances the roast drippings.

Here’s the method that we taught last week to Brentwood Academy students who chose to spend their Winterim cooking in our kitchen at Second Harvest. They did a fantastic job preparing roast chicken as part of a complete healthy dinner for their families.

If you have the time, prep your chicken early (like overnight, or in the morning before you go to work): it only improves from being refrigerated several hours in the herbed olive oil mixture.

But for our students, it was all in a day’s work and that night, their families were the happy recipients.

Herb Roasted Chicken
1 whole chicken (about 3-3 ½ lbs.)
½ lemon
pieces of onion, carrot, celery
2 large cloves garlic
assorted fresh herbs: sage, rosemary, thyme (oregano and Italian parsley are good,too!)
2 tablespoon olive oil ( or vegetable oil)
½ teaspoon paprika
kosher salt
coarse ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
After removing gizzards and any excess fat, wash the chicken thoroughly-inside and out-and pat dry. Liberally season the inside cavity with salt and pepper, then place ½ lemon, a stalk of celery, a carrot, and an onion quarter inside.
Peel and mince garlic. Finely chop fresh herbs-a heaping tablespoon of each. Mix the garlic and herbs in a small bowl with olive oil. Stir in a pinch of salt and pepper. Using your fingers, gently separate the skin of the breast of the chicken and rub the seasoned oil mixture onto the bird. Rub remaining oil and herbs onto the outside of the chicken.
Set the chicken in a roasting pan, breast side up. Roast uncovered for an hour until golden brown. To check for doneness, pierce the thigh with a sharp knife to see if the juices run clear. Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before carving. Discard lemon and veggie pieces. Skim off the oil/fat from the drippings before making a gravy, or spooning over the chicken.
Serves 4.

just us chickens! the group has them oven-ready

roasted with plenty of garlic and herbs right under the skin,
this chicken is ready to take home

Posted in Meats/Poultry, Recipes

4 Responses to “Just Us Chickens: a roast chicken primer”
  1. Pat Says:

    great job with the kids! my chicken should look so good!

  2. Madeleine Says:

    “Discard lemon and veggie pieces”

    I’m curious, why do you recommend that the veggies from the inside cavity be thrown out?

  3. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Good question.
    My experience has been that those veggie pieces–once they’ve done their interior aromatic work over the hour’s roasting time–are not so wonderful to eat, unlike vegetables that would roast, say, outside/alongside the chicken,in less time (30-35 minutes.) It would be fine, if you like, to puree them with the de-fatted drippings for a gravy.

  4. Lou Says:

    You are right – the free range chickens are the best but make sure they REALLY are free range. The free range chickens at the store may not be so free!

    Receiving a frozen chicken for my birthday was definitely a first for me!

    A tip for those of us who love chicken livers, buy a few extra livers, salt lightly and tuck them inside by the celery. They will cook to perfection….AND CAN BE EATEN BY THE COOK BEFORE THE CHICKEN HITS THE TABLE!!!

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