Roast Chicken for Dummies

There’s no excuse for not knowing how to roast a chicken. If you can make mac and cheese from a box, you can roast a chicken. If you can microwave popcorn, you can roast a chicken. If you can toast a pop tart, you can roast a chicken.

Not only is it a life skill, I genuinely believe there’s no more satisfying meal. There’s a reason why literally every culture has a version. You can do it with any kinds of flavorings you want, you can do it with rice or potatoes or cabbage or noodles or all of the above. My problem with roast chicken is… none, I don’t have one. But if I had to make one up, it would be that people find it intimidating when it’s actually the least-risk, highest-reward meal I know how to make. I know you think I’m exaggerating about the popcorn thing, but I’m not.

People are cool with baking boneless skinless breasts, or broiling thighs, but they’ll chicken out when it comes to roasting (har har) and just get a rotisserie chicken from the store. And listen, no shade, rotisserie chicken is delicious. But people think of roasting chicken at home as this big-deal thing, and it’s just not.

I remember when Harry and Meghan got engaged everyone got all excited about the Engagement Chicken she made him which was apparently they Key to their Endless Love, or whatever. And if so, mazel tov. Many successful relationships have been built on less. But I guess what I’m saying is that even though a new recipe for the Perfect Chicken comes out every six months, and even though I have like 4 different versions in my rotation, you just don’t need to go that hard in order to eat something really excellent.

just look at her. who is she.

Making roast chicken at home is like making a homemade birthday card. Could you go out to the store and get one that works just fine? Of course you could. Would the person you’re getting the card for rather have something you made yourself? Obviously. Getting to enjoy something that someone made for you with their own hands is worlds better than getting it store-bought, no matter how fucked-up unique it looks.

The problem with trying to teach yourself how to roast chicken is that the internet’s “perfect recipes” all have the birthday-card equivalents of six kinds of sequins, twelve different origami techniques and a pop-up crocheted drink umbrella.

The one from Felicity Cloake’s Guardian column involves poaching it for ten minutes first and then roasting it on a high heat. Does it come out great? Yes. Does it involve hauling a par-boiled chicken carcass out of a giant stockpot while trying to avoid the waterfall of boiling chicken water streaming out of the cavity  and then subsequently not dropping the chicken itself on the floor when you inevitably scald yourself with volcanic salmonella-infused steam? Also yes.

Don’t worry, though, the classic Jacques Pepin version just involves puppeteering your chicken through a series of slow-motion breakdance moves as it roasts. And you baste it every 10 minutes, too, like it’s a Backstreet Boy. Simple. Easy. Classique.

quit playing games

What I’m trying to say is, to have a really good chicken you don’t have to buttermilk-brine it overnight or stuff it with herbs or vivisect a cabbage to go underneath it. You don’t need a clay pot and you don’t need six lemons and you don’t need to remember whether you have the quick-cook rice or the normal rice and then calculate the correct liquid absorption rates.

You don’t need to! You can add more things as you get more comfortable until you, too, have a roster of roast chickens that you flip through like a rolodex, but to start with you really don’t need much.

Every time I make the New Fancy Chicken, it comes out, if I’m lucky, like maybe 5% better than a plain ol’ regular-degular roast chicken. The chicken you roast does not have to be the Perfect Exemplar Chicken of All Time. Pretty good roast chicken is still better than 95% of other chickens.

Here’s what you do: You buy a reasonably nice chicken, you take it out of the packaging, you put it in a roasting pan, you leave it in the oven for an hour and a half, you come back, and you live your dream.

Here are the things people worry about with chicken: it’s gonna be undercooked. Stick a knife between the thigh and the breast. Are the juices pink? Are you not sure? Are you on the fence? Put it back in for 10 minutes. Still pink? Put it back in.

Are you now worried it’s gonna be overcooked? Too bad there’s an entire Dip Industry built around this one problem. Oh no, you have to make a quick honey mustard to dip it in? Or sriracha mayo? Or just, like barbecue sauce? Tragic. How tragic for you. I’m weeping. What a disaster.

Don’t know how to carve? Me neither. Just take the legs off and dig in. People should not be judging your knife skills, they should be thanking their lucky stars you deigned to make them a chicken.

Anyway, one of the best ways to eat roast chicken is for a fancy weekend lunch. It’s worlds easier than a crustless quiche or an elaborate pasta or trying to split the check 6 ways when Greg ordered 3 sides and you’re the only one who got bottomless mimosas.

In fact, if you combine the last couple of recipes from this very blog, you can have a classic Fancy Lunch of roast chicken, salad, new potatoes with butter and a little cake with cream and jam. (I’m trusting that you know how to boil potatoes.) It’s not hip, nor is it trendy, but it’s elegant as fuck. Thank me later.

Roast Chicken for Dummies (no offense/full offense)

Ingredients

1 whole chicken

Salt

Pepper

Whatever strong, woody herbs you have. Rosemary, thyme, sage

Butter, preferably at room temperature

If you want, an onion, two carrots, and two sticks of celery, chopped. And some baby potatoes, that’d be good. Ooh, or some whole garlic cloves.

Method:

  1. Take the chicken out of the wrapping it came in – make sure there’s no little papers sticking to the bottom as there sometimes can be. If it’s trussed, leave it trussed. If it’s not trussed, don’t worry about it. If you don’t know what trussing is, double don’t worry about it.
  2. Put it in your roasting pan. If it has a rack, use that. The rack holds the chicken away from the bottom of the pan and helps hot air circulate around it so it cooks more evenly. Will your chicken not cook right without a rack? Literally of course not. You can cook a chicken in a pyrex or a dutch oven or a cast iron or really anything oven-safe that has a high lip to catch the juices.
  3. Don’t worry about washing chicken – it’s not a good idea, it gets germs more places than they’d be otherwise, and the chicken cooks at a high enough heat that it should kill off anything gross.
  4. If you have your woody herbs, stuff them in the cavity. If you have the onion, carrots, and celery, scatter them in the bottom of the pan. And the potatoes. If you want to stuff a half a lemon or a head of garlic up that chicken too, go for it. I have never really felt that it makes a huge difference, but do your thing.
  5. Sprinkle your chicken liberally with salt and pepper, then get your softened butter and rub a good chunk (3 tablespoons?) into the skin with said salt and pepper so everything’s covered. Think of it like reverse sunscreen – the butter helps the skin brown and get crispy.
  6. Preheat your oven to 425 and let the chicken hang out at room temperature while it heats up. This helps it dry out a little, and cook more evenly.
  7. When the oven’s ready, stick the chicken in and turn the heat down to 400. If it’s a big chicken, it’ll take a full hour and a half, or even an hour 45 if it’s a monster. If it’s not, start checking on it at an hour and 15 minutes.
  8. Set the timer. Hang out! Watch a movie, make out with someone, do a craft.
  9. At one hour and 15 minutes, poke the chicken. If the juice is pink, put it back in. If it’s not, congratulations! You have achieved chicken. You can also whack the heat back up to 425 for the last 15 minutes to help the skin brown, if you want.
  10. When it’s done, let it hang out for 15 minutes on the counter (with a hot thing underneath) while you make your sides.
  11. Rip into it with your hands. Are you kidding me? Your house smells AMAZING right now.
  12. If you did your little vegetables in the bottom, you now have saucy schmaltzy vegetables that act as a quasi-gravy and taste great spooned over chicken and sides.
  13. If you didn’t do vegetables don’t throw out the pan juices, save them for future stock.
  14. If you’re feeling frisky, turn the oven down to 350 and make a little cake while you eat dinner, it should cook in about 20 minutes or so. Then you can have warm cake for dessert. I made a two-egg sponge and rubbed the zest of a lemon into the sugar. It was excellent.
  15. Now you have a chicken carcass, which is great news because that means one thing and that thing is: SOUP. To be continued…

4 thoughts on “Roast Chicken for Dummies”

  1. Okay, so, I have a question (I needed this recipe, and I also needed full offense): when you buy the whole chicken from the store, is it… EMPTY?? It seems like yes. Which is less intimidating. Could there be a scenario where it is… NOT EMPTY?? Also, omg, that skin.

    Like

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