A perfectly golden crispy-skinned, juicy-interiored roasted chicken must be one of the most nostalgic, beloved dishes of the American table. However, current cooking trends are replacing the whole, incredibly nutritious bird with recipes calling for just the white breast meat. My husband and I too, almost-exclusively, ate bushels of breast/tenderloins since not only were they so fast and versatile, it was just like a blank canvas to splash with whatever flavor we desired. Thankfully I learned, with time, that if we chose to eat organic meat–and that quickly became a priority once we understood the impact of such concentrations of hormones, pesticides, bleaches, unethical business practices, and inhumane treatment of the animals–we would be paying an astronomical price per pound for those gratifying cuts. I also learned that those bones that we so carelessly discard carry a wealth of healing, strengthening benefits. The bones also form the base of rich chicken broth for soups or intensely flavored gourmet cooking. This was another benefit because I was indeed spending substantial money for cartons of organic broth. I actually cringe a little to think of the waste of those chicken carcasses when we could have been roasting the whole bird and enjoying more than delectable, vitamin-infused tender meat and the fat in the skin roasted to crunchy savoriness!
And then about a year ago we stopped buying super market chicken. We opted to buy 15 whole chickens from a seriously organic, nearby farmer; we were convinced of the integrity of his fine poultry. The flavor was outstanding and the texture was perfect! We had also bought 1/4 of a cow at the same time and since we had lots of the cheaper beef and so much less chicken we have eaten sparingly from our chicken stock. We have thoroughly savored each one but it was a bit of challenge to take on the entire bird and to cook it consistently well. I quickly learned that it is easy to roast and easy to vary the seasonings. My ‘teacher’ was Alice Waters, author of “The Art of Simple Food”. Her methods are beautifully simple and she goes into details about the reasons for different techniques. However, I will share my mental recipe as it it’s much shorter but still a very effective method.
4-5 pound chicken
Sea salt, around a Tbsp,
Pepper, roughly a Tsp.
Unsalted butter &/or olive oil
Half a lemon
Herbs to taste, garlic cloves(my favorites are fresh thyme, parsley, sage, chives, and rosemary)
*Preparing the chicken for roasting can be done a few days in advance, in fact it’s better when you can so the flavors permeate the meat. Often though, I prep a thawed chicken in the morning and let it sit in the fridge until 2ish hours before dinner. That way the chicken can come to room temperature (for even cooking) for an hour before hitting the oven.
1. Preheat the oven to 400º and rinse chicken inside and out in cold water, removing any giblets. Pat dry with paper towels.
2. Squeeze the lemon inside the cavity and sprinkle with around a tsp. of salt. Stuff most of the herbs and garlic cloves inside the cavity as well.
3. Slide your fingers under the breast skin, loosening and separating. Push a few tablespoons of butter underneath along with a few pinches of salt, pepper, and herbs.
4. Drizzle olive oil over the entire chicken and spread lots of salt and pepper, rubbing it into the skin with your hands.
5. Tuck the wings under the body if you wish, and place breast-side up into the baking pan or roasting pan. Bake at 400º for 20 minutes, turn down to 350º for 20, and then back up to 400º for 20 minutes. If your chicken is a bit cooler it may need an extra 5 minutes in each stage. It simplifies the process to remember “20 minutes up, 20 minutes down, and 20 minutes back up”.
Needless to say, your chicken should be gorgeous, fragrant, and when pierced in the meatiest part of the thigh, the juices should ooze clear. Ideally you would allow the chicken to rest for about 15 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute through the meat before cutting into it.