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Friday, May 29, 2009

Roast Chicken, Simple Yet Exquisite

Whole chickens are regularly on sale at a very good price. At Costco, they're always cheap. We've used them in the past for a number of favorites, like chicken noodle soup, chicken and dumplings, and a chicken and rice dish that we all really like.

We've tried roasting chickens before, but temporarily gave up after we encountered some persistent problems: one, the grease splattered all over the oven and made a horrible mess which we relived through smoke every time the oven was on. And two, cooking the chicken thoroughly without drying it out was a challenge.

This post is more about cooking method than it is an actual recipe. There are endless improvisations on this theme. But it's a classic technique that you'll use often after you've tried it.

One of the secrets to roasting chicken is to make the oven hot--preheat it to 450 degrees. Another secret is to make the chicken as dry as possible. I hold the chicken under the tap in the kitchen sink to wash the cavity out thoroughly, but then I also dry the inside and outside of the chicken completely with paper towels. I also usually let it air dry for a few minutes while I'm assembling all of the other ingredients and utensils I need to prepare the bird for baking.

I've seen people fill the bird cavity with lemons or onions or other flavorings. I believe that the drier you can keep the chicken, the more it will roast instead of steaming. Hence, the more succulent and tender your meat will be. I sometimes put some fresh herbs in the cavity, though--washed and well-dried, of course. Last night's selection included thyme and sage because they've taken off early out in the garden.

Once the chicken is dry, it should be trussed. I won't go into a lot of detail here about how to truss a chicken, but there is plenty of help on the internet if you haven't done it before. It basically involves tying up the legs and tying the wings in back so that there are no flailing appendages. This makes for a prettier chicken, and also helps it to cook more uniformly. I've checked at every supermarket in the area, and none of them have butcher's twine. I'm pleased to report that, while it's probably not the most budget friendly option, dental floss works quite nicely.

Finish preparing the chicken by rubbing it with a couple of teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil. Then sprinkle liberally with kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper.

Finally, to keep your oven relatively clean during the roasting process, slice a couple of potatoes in the bottom of your roasting pan. They don't have to be especially nice potatoes. You're not going to want to eat it after the meat is done. The potatoes will absorb the grease that would otherwise splatter all over the place. Put a rack in the pan and place the chicken on the rack.

Bake the chicken for 60 to 70 minutes (for a 3-4 pound bird). Let it rest for a few minutes after you take it out of the oven, and then carve. When we cut our chicken for dinner last night, it was so juicy that we actually had a bit of a flood on the cutting board and had to sop it up with paper towels.

Here's what the finished product should look like, and it smells and tastes even better than it looks!

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