Thursday, October 25, 2012

To Roast a Chicken

I was planning to sit down in my solitary quietude tonight and write a thoughtful piece about trust and tithing and evangelical poverty.  Ryan's in Boston overnight, and the children are asleep.  But that would be bound to end up a rambly mess tonight, so another cooking post it is. 

Today I washed almost all of the windows in my house.  Pulled the screens out and scrubbed the frames with Q-tips.  We've been overrun by gnats.  We get them every fall, thanks to the hackberry trees lining our street, and they nest in the little spaces around the window frame and in the screens.  They die when the frost comes for good.  But with temps in the upper 70s a few days before Halloween, this is the worst I've ever seen them.  I've been saying I wish I had the energy to do a for-real housecleaning this fall.  I've always thought fall is the best time for a thorough housecleaning.  After the mess of summer outdoor life, and before the holiday rush sets in.  Well, now I've begun, energy or not.  More like not, at least at the moment. 

But the windows do look nice.  I'm hoping after a good night's sleep the windows will inspire me to the next step in next-to-godliness. Bedroom, definitely.  At least put away the baskets of clean but not folded laundry and dust before Ryan comes home tomorrow.  I think I can do that.

Anthony had fun washing the storm doors for me.  And you know what?  They actually are much improved!

He's getting to be quite helpful.    He likes to do fingerpainting at his little table, and afterwards he cleans up with his own little sponge and scrub bucket (a beach pail unearthed from the Basement of Death).  He's very careful to get every little bit of paint off the white tabletop.  It's one of the Montessori-esque things we've been doing a lot more of lately.  But that's another topic for another day.  See why I couldn't tackle philosophical subject matter tonight?  I haven't even mentioned chicken yet!

 Anthony's taken my roasting pan for a lentil-pouring tray.

Yes, chicken.  Rosemary and Christine both commented that they weren't really sure how to roast a chicken.  My first thought was, "You know, now that I think about it, I'm not sure either!"  I think it's different every time, 'cause I like to walk on the wild side like that.  I'm not going to be like a silly cookbook I have that often says, "Cook until done."  If Ryan understood things like cooking he could break it down so much better, but here is my method as well as I can analyze it.

First, if you have the time, wash and season your bird a few hours before you plan to cook it.  Remove the giblets, rinse it inside and out with cold water, and pat dry.  Drying it makes the skin crispier.  I use paper towels, despite being a dirty conservative hippie.  If you use a regular kitchen towel, hang it up to dry before mixing it with other dirty laundry.  And then wash it with hot water and bleach.  I don't really have a designated place for bacteria-laden laundry besides the diaper pail.  That's gross and I should remedy that.  But anyway, back to chicken.

Your bird is rinsed and dried.  Now place it in a shallow roasting pan.  Any baking dish will do, really, if you haven't got an official roasting pan.  Now for flavoring.  First grease the skin.  I like to use olive oil usually, but melted butter is fabulous.  Choose some herbs, about three tablespoons worth is not too much.  Mix them in a small bowl with pepper and loads of salt.  Coarse sea salt is a must.  Rub this mixture all over the outside of the bird and you can do the inside too.  Any herb or blend you like will do.  Inside the cavity, you can put in onion wedges, celery, carrots, half of a lemon or orange, garlic cloves, or apple wedges in any combination you fancy.  Or don't put anything inside, but it makes the chicken smell lovely as it roasts.

Some favorite combinations:
  • Herbes de Provence, lemon and rosemary sprigs inside
  • The Simon & Garfunkel:  Parsley, sage, rosmary, and thyme
  • Lots of garlic (stick slivers under the skin), rub with salt and red pepper flakes, drizzle the whole thing with honey and lemon juice.  More whole garlic cloves and lemon inside.

I don't usually find it necessary to truss the chicken.  As long as the stuff inside doesn't fall out, it's all good.  I usually make a smaller chicken; about 4 lbs is right for just us with a meal or two from the leftovers.

Pop it back in the fridge until an hour before cooking time. Letting meat sit on the counter might seem odd, but I find it helps it cook more evenly to bring it to room temperature first.  Otherwise your skin will be burning before the thigh meat is done.  Preheat your oven to 450.

When you put the chicken in the oven, turn the heat down to 375.  If it's a bigger bird, say 7-8 lbs, wait 10 minutes before turning down the heat.  This higher heat to begin with seals the juices in and helps with that fabulous crispy skin.  I think basting is optional.  At least I usually get distracted and forget to do it, and it's still yummy in the end.  But it does make it look pretty.  Every 20 minutes or so is plenty. 

A 4 lb. bird takes about an hour and a half to cook, but start checking the temperature well before that.  Getting the meat thermometer in the right place in the thigh is the hardest part to learn, I think.  It's done when the thermometer reads 180.  I don't have a picture, but here's one from the USDA:

You have to get a feel for it really.  If you can feel the tip of the thermometer hit the bone you've put it in too far and will get a falsely high reading.  Another way to tell if it's done is to pierce the skin with a skewer (or the meat thermometer).  The juice that comes out should be clear, not bloody-looking.

Once it's done, carefully move the chicken to a carving board to rest for 15 minutes or so before carving.

Roasting a turkey is this exact same thing, just longer.  The turkey I made last year was the Herbe de Provence version.  You are now equipped to host Thanksgiving dinner! 

See? This is you! But you have better hair.


  1. "The Simon and Garfunkel"! Ok, now I totally have to use that herb mixture on something, just so I can call it that!

  2. oh ,also, I want to hear about tithing/trust/poverty and Montessori! Write about them soon! I've been having Sly help me with cooking and dish-washing recently, but it's more to keep him from having tantrums than to instill valuable lessons ;-)

    1. I think not having tantrums is a valuable lesson! ;)

  3. mmm... this sounds yummy! We have a chicken in our freezer that needs to be roasted (that Chuckie's siblings bought when they decided to go to the store for cereal... not realizing that it could not be their dinner within an hour... ha!). I'll have to do this soon (that is, if Hurricane Sandy doesn't knock out our power and ruin everything in our freezer!... and also if its not too freezer burnt from being in there so long)