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Roast Chicken —A Good Idea Most Anytime

December 19, 2011 | Tags: Deborah Madison , Food | Post comment

Roast Chicken —A Good Idea Most Anytime

Even though Christmas dinner looms next week, which for many is an occasion for serving a turkey, a ham, a goose or other large piece of meat, I want to speak up for the roast chicken, not necessarily for Christmas, but for after the holidays and throughout the year. This is a dish that always pleases for there’s nothing more homey, familiar and satisfying, and there are few main dishes that are easier to make. (By the way, I’ve also served one for Christmas dinner when we were just a party of four and it was absolutely fine.)

A roast chicken is also economical. Consider the following:
 + If you buy a roasted chicken at your supermarket, it’s usually $ 8.99, at least where I live, for a small bird. For two dollars more I can buy a 4 ¼ pound Belle and Evans roasting chicken, a considerably larger bird and probably better raised than the one roasted for you.
 + Four adults will be amply fed from a 4-pound bird and there will be plenty left over.
 + The leftovers will be appreciated in a sandwich or a chicken salad or just eaten cold for lunch the next day.
 + The carcass can be covered with water and converted to your own homemade chicken stock with little effort, thus saving a few more dollars and giving you a better tasting stock than the boxed variety.
 + Finally, you have flavoring options that you don’t have when someone has done the work for you.


So if you haven’t considered roasting your own bird, here’s how.  This is the plainest possible way to proceed. First heat your oven to 400’F.

1.  Reach inside the chicken and pull out the paper-wrapped packet that contains the liver and neck and possibly the heart and gizzard.  You can sauté the liver and have it on a cracker while the chicken is baking or set aside it with the other parts to use in your stock if you choose to

2.  If the bird is damp, blot it dry with a paper towel, then season it lightly with salt both inside and out. Brush the surface with a little olive oil (most recipes will tell you melted butter) so that it doesn’t dry out.

3.  Sometimes the legs will be joined together through a piece of skin, but if that’s not the case and the legs and wings are sort of falling this way and that, get a piece of string and tie the bird so that it’s compact. That way it will cook evenly.

4.  Put the chicken in a pan or dish with shallow sides, the breast facing up. If you’re not sure which is the breast side, feel it. It will feel fleshy and plump where as the back side will feel bony.

5.  Put it in the center oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375’F and cook until the bird is golden, the liquid runs clear when you pierce the thighs with a knife, and the joints feel loose. For a four-pound bird this should take about an hour plus 20 minutes or so.

6.  Remove the bird from the pan, lifting it onto a platter; bring it to the table with pride and expect to see happy eaters. A roast chicken is a glorious looking, fragrant creature, and one to be admired. Carve it at the table, or in the privacy of your kitchen, then bring out the pieces.


As for seasonings there are lots of things you can do with a chicken. I work finely chopped rosemary and garlic under the skin and stuff the cavity with rosemary and garlic as well. Some people put lemons in the cavity. Sage is very good with chicken, or huge numbers of garlic cloves, unpeeled, placed around the bird as it's cooking, which turn sweet and soft. You can also surround your bird with carrots, onions, mushrooms and other vegetables, or roast them separately. But truly, salt and pepper can be quite enough.


It takes a little practice to carve a bird, but even I’ve learned how and I don’t roast chickens all that often. First of all a sharp knife really helps. And if the chicken is well cooked and tender, it’s easy to tug on the leg, see the joint, and make a cut right through it to separate the drumstick from the thigh. The breast can come off in slices, leaving the skin with the meat. You’ll get 4 or more thick slices of breast meat per bird, leaving some flesh on the bone to remove later or include in your stock. In the end you’ll have about 10 pieces nicely laid out in a serving dish. All the fat can remain in the pan. It looks very neat and handsome this way and is easy to serve. Of course, you could also buy a cut-up chicken and roast the pieces, but then you won’t have anything to make a stock with, nor the pleasure of seeing the whole bird.


After dinner, remove any large pieces of meat that remain on the bones and keep them for salad or sandwiches. Put the carcass in a soup pot, (don’t forget the extra chicken parts you set aside), cover it with plenty of cold water and add a small onion, halved, a carrot and a celery stock if available. Add a scant teaspoon salt.  Bring gradually to a near boil then lower the heat to the lowest possible temperature, cover the pot, and leave overnight or for 4 to 5 hours. Strain the broth off the bones, let it cool in the refrigerator, then skim off the fat. If you don’t use chicken stock often, decant it into freezer bags, label, then freeze to use later. Sometimes stock will be gelatinous and semi-solid looking once it’s cooled. This is not a problem, just an indication of a richer stock. Once heated, it will thin out.