I have had some interesting meals in my life. But when I think about my best food experiences, a really good roast chicken comes to the top. A traditional birthday treat is La Medusa, a small Sicilian restaurant in the Columbia City neighborhood of Seattle, with Judy and Steve. This small eatery is consistently outstanding. We go to their market meal sometime in the summer where they create masterpieces with what is fresh in the neighboring farmer’s market. It was there I had the most wonderful restaurant dinner I ever enjoyed: a roasted chicken. Only topped by my friend Melinda’s roasted chicken. She is a chef officially and naturally. In the wonderful, wet Seattle winter (I can say wet is wonderful after my hard time in the Middle East) I was thinking that a roasted chicken is what I really wanted to learn how to make. So, after a call to Melinda, I set out to learn how to roast one that I would be proud to serve. Or to enjoy by myself. Melinda shared with me her approach. I did a little extra research on the internet and took it on. After four (all delicious) birds I feel ready to (over)share what I learned. Here is all the advice (maybe too much?) you need to roast a delicious chicken.
What you need:
- A 5 to 7 pound chicken (my advice: spend the extra money to buy an organic free range bird. Too small and it doesn’t have the juice and fat you need and cooks too fast to really roast in the flavor. Mass produced hormone fed two for the price of one F-ing Farm birds too fatty and injected with juice…well, it just doesn’t feel right to put this much love into). Accounting for the bones and other unplatable parts you get about one serving per pound of raw, whole chicken.
- Two yellow onions
- Two big fat carrots
- Four stalks of celery
- ¼ cup ( ½ cube) butter
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¼ - ½ cup chopped fresh herbs (I use Italian parsley and fresh thyme and rosemary from the garden)
- Salt (be generous) and fresh ground pepper
- 1/2 lemon, zested and juiced (optional)
What you do:
Preheat oven to 450-degrees. Put the rack low in the oven (the bird will be pretty high).
Peel the two onions and cut each in half. Lay the four halves in the middle of a deep sided baking pan. Cut the carrots in half lengthwise and layout across the top of the onions. Criss cross the celery stalks on top of the carrots making a vegetable “raft” on which you will eventually lay the chicken.
(note, this photo illustrates the raft. It is the first chicken I tried. This is where I learned don't bother with a scrawny bird. This was only 2.5 lbs and, though yummy, way too small to make a good roast chicken)
Wash and pat dry the chicken.
Melt the butter.
Mix with chopped herbs, olive oil, a big pinch of salt and some ground pepper. Add the lemon juice and zest if desired.
With your hand, chicken breast side up, separate the skin from the breast meat. Generously rub about half the herbed butter/oil mixture under the skin. This should be a very tactile experience. No weenies allowed. Clip off the tips of the wings and insert into the vegetable raft. If the chicken came with a neck stick that in the raft too. Ditch any giblets. Who eats those anyway? With cooking twine, truss the legs and the “pope’s nose” together tightly then tie the wings tightly to the body. Rub the rest of the butter/oil/herbs over the rest of the outside of the chicken. Lay the bird on top of the vegetable raft.
Put the bird in the hot oven and turn the heat down to 350 degrees. Set the timer for 20 minutes per pound for the bird (set the timer for two hours for a six pound chicken). Soon you will realize you are salivating…the house starts to smell amazing! Resist the temptation to peek. When the timer goes off take the bird’s temperature in two places: the middle of the breast, and, more importantly, at the fattest part of the thigh. You are aiming for an internal temperature of 160-170 degrees. It continues to heat before it cools down so don’t worry about the thermometer saying it needs to be 175. Even if the top is a nice brown do not be tempted to take out sooner. You may need to go for up to another thirty minutes. Take the chicken out BUT (this is the most important part) do not cut into the chicken for at least 15 minutes). If you are going to want to make gravy, while the chicken is cooling remove it from the roaster and put it on a high sided platter. I’ll explain the gravy part later. You can leave the chicken at this point for a good deal of time. It will stay juicy.
Gravy and Chicken Stock:
While you now have a wonderful roasted chicken, you have the opportunity to make a wonderful chicken stock and some incredibly delicious gravy. Here’s what I do: Put a big pot filled half way with cold water on the back burner. When you’ve put the chicken on the platter to cool remove the vegetables from the raft and throw them in the pot with the water (if you’ve got a steamer/straining basket have it in the pot with the water. It makes draining the broth later easier). There will be lots of juices in the roasting pan. Pour them into a small bowl and stick this in the refrigerator to separate.
There will be some wonderful brown bits in the bottom of the roasting pan. Scrape these into a small saucepan. After the chicken has cooled for at least 15 minutes move it to a cutting board. There will be lots of good juices on the platter. Pour these juices into another small bowl and stick it into the refrigerator. In another fifteen minutes to a half hour take your two small bowls of juices from the fridge. The first bowl will have a thick layer of rendered fat on the top. With a spoon scrape these fats into the sink. What’s left is a gelatinous layer of thick brown gravy makings. Put that into the small saucepan with the brown bits. The second bowl will mostly be thick gelatinous gravy makings and a thin layer of fat. If you want, separate that out but if it’s a small amount don’t worry. Toss it into the gravy sauce pan. Turn the burner onto medium. While it’s heating up, in a small bottle shake together about ¼ cup COLD milk and a generous tablespoon of white flower. When the gelatinous juices have melted and are near boil add the milk/flour mix and a good pinch of salt. Whisk briskly as it comes to a boil and thickens up. Taste it. Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. There’s your gravy!
When you carve the bird, throw the unusable back part into the big pot for the chicken broth. After people have enjoyed the chicken take any bones from their plates and throw them in the broth pot too. Simmer that broth until it is reduced to about a third. Pour it through a colander and discard the vegetables and bones. Some of the herbs will stay behind. That’s all good. Return to the pot and simmer until about an hour before you have to give up and go to bed. Just before you retire move the reduced broth to a sealable container and throw it in the fridge or into the freezer. You have gold there. You can be sated just by the aromas from reheating that broth. It’s all good!
Sides: (Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Green Beans with Garlic)
You don’t have to do anything but the chicken to be perfectly at peace. But as long as you are messing up the kitchen, and maybe serving a few friends, and have that wonderful brown gravy, simple sides of mashed potatoes and roasted green beans are perfect sides. For the potatoes I use some large red ones. Cut them into fourths. Cover with cold water plus a generous pinch of Kosher salt. Boil until soft when pierced with a fork. Drain. Put through a potato ricer (I don’t like to use the mixer as they turn too starchy). Some of the red skins will get through. That’s all good too. Heat a little butter and milk and mix in. Then dip into that hot broth on the back burner and add some to the potatoes through a strainer until they are the texture you like. Taste and add more salt if needed.
For the beans, pinch off the stem ends and wash. Shake off the water. Toss with a little olive oil and a little Kosher salt. Chop finely several cloves of garlic and toss in too. Lay them out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Throw them into the 375 oven while the chicken is cooling. Cook for about eight minutes. That’s it. Easy peasy.
What you drink:
If you are at a loss for what wine to serve with this chicken I will recommend a nice chilled rose' or a Pinot Noir at room temp. Trader Joe’s has lots of good, well priced options. This is a rustic meal. No expensive labels needed. I like one with a good write up posted on the shelf and a fun label. I’m just that way.