You can tell a lot about a cook just by asking them, “How do you roast a chicken?” Not their fancier Julia method for dinner parties and in-laws but rather the everyday supper on the table method.
Me? I keep it pretty simple with perhaps the slightest bit of zhuzh. But even that’s descended from some laziness. (I’ll explain shortly.)
Know this: roasting a chicken is one of the easiest and most economical dishes out there once you get the hang of it.
We won’t need much to make the magic happen but a good chicken is a must. It seems obvious. You want a chicken that tastes like chicken and isn’t injected with water and salt and antibiotics and other gunk. (Read those labels.)
Ask around, hit the internet, look in a phone book (rare books section, 2nd floor). Get local chickens from someone who raises them with care, in an open space, doesn’t feed them crap, and doesn’t depend on drugs to keep them alive. I hate to be so blunt about this but most of the chickens in the grocery store just do not fit the bill.
I have roasted chickens for people who’ve only had the factory-farmed stuff and they usually say things like, “I didn’t know chicken could taste this good. It tastes so chicken-y. Like at a really good restaurant.”
The really nice chickens in the really nice grocery stores that purport to meet all of the good criteria — and I’ve no reason to doubt they really do — tend to cost way more than I want to pay for a chicken. Good news? It doesn’t have to be that way. Worst case, check out the organics at the Costco I’ve seen lately.
Okay, now that’s settled. Demi-rant done.
You’ll also need an oven-safe pan in which to roast your chicken. A dutch oven, cast iron skillet (10 or 12 inch), roasting pan, or whatever you’ve got. Just so long as it will comfortably hold the chicken, has a couple inches of sides to hold in any liquids and splatters, and ideally conducts heat pretty well.
If your chicken’s frozen, thaw it in the refrigerator. Safety first. I’ve yet to find a way to speed this up. Don’t be tempted to try and thaw it on the counter, it’s not safe.
Now, carefully pat your chicken dry with a paper towel. Inside the cavity too.
Sometimes there can be hairs, follicles, and tiny feathers left on the bird. Usually you can just remove it but sometimes a pair of needle nose pliers makes it easier. (Hey, I’ve been places where you have to remove the head and feet yourself. A few feathers seems like a small price to pay for fresh.)
Ideally, if you’ve got a bit of time, sprinkle a teaspoon of kosher salt all over it (top and bottom) and let it sit out for an hour.
If there are giblets, put them aside to save for making stock later.
For me, onions, carrot, and celery. Sometimes garlic. Bay leaf, thyme (fresh if I have it, dried if I don’t), salt, and pepper. I chop it all up and stuff the cavity. I want the flavors to cook through the chicken, from the inside, and these are my favorites.
This is where that laziness thing comes in. Once supper’s over, I clean off any remaining meat into a separate container for leftovers. Then, I toss the carcass, bones, and leftover stuffing and vegetables back into the roasting pan. And I put a lid on it and tuck it into the refrigerator for the next day. Day two: I fill the pan with water and set it on the back of the stove for a few hours to make liquid gold homemade chicken stock.
But use what you have or ingredients that complement your other dishes that night. It’s all good. Just dice it small enough to stuff into the bird.
As for seasoning, thyme, tarragon, rosemary, chili powder, cumin, dill, allspice, you name it I’ve probably used it at least once. I use the spices I like. Or just salt and pepper and nothing else. Depends on the day.
Then, with a few inches of kitchen string, I truss the drumsticks together. Nothing fancy, a figure-eight loop of string twisted over the ends. It helps hold everything in including some of the heat.
I toss what’s left of the vegetables in the bottom of the pan and lay the chicken on top of those. I want the chicken to be raised off of the bottom of the pan so it drains as it cooks. If you have a rack, use that. A couple slices of crusty bread works great too. Sliced onions and lemons are also wonderful.
Scatter the leftovers from the vegetable bowl on the bottom of the pan and lay the bird on top of it, breast up. Or use your rack.
Tuck the wing tips underneath to keep them from burning.
If you want crispy skin (not everyone does), smear some room temperature butter over the bird. If you don’t want to use butter, then brush it with a tablespoon of good olive oil. Halfway through the cooking, baste it with the pan juices.
Now dust it again with salt and pepper.
Want a built-in side dish? Toss some larger cut pieces of potatoes, fennel, leeks, or carrots lightly with olive oil, salt, and pepper and scatter them around the pan to roast along with the bird.
Into a 425°F oven for an hour. Uncovered — you don’t want to steam it. If your chicken weighs more than 3 pounds, it will take about 10 – 15 minutes longer for each additional pound.
Check with an instant read thermometer at the thickest part of the thigh for 160°F – 165°F doneness. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, pierce the thigh with a skewer and tip the chicken up a little to check the juices that run out. If they’re clear, you’re probably okay. If they’re not, back into the oven for ten minutes. Check again and repeat as necessary.
Done is key. Under-cooked chicken is not good. Don’t panic, we’ve all done it. Just cook it some more and try not to overcook it. (It gets dry that way and then you have to make gravy.)(I’m often asked to make gravy anyway.)(Gravy is the cosmetic spackle of the kitchen world.)
Finally, tip the bird for a couple of seconds to let it drain then transfer to a cutting board. Let it rest for ten minutes before you cut it up. The juices need to absorb into the meat and it will cook a bit more as it sits.
And that’s it. Carve and serve.
Be sure to save the bones, carcass, and everything else to make stock. It’s so much better than broth from a can, I promise. And it stretches your money further which is always a good thing.
Next day leftover chicken is a treasure to behold. Try it on a sandwich or shred it on a salad. Pure gold.
Until later. Enjoy!
Roasting a chicken is an arrow for every cook's quiver. Easy, affordable, and amazing. Visit suppertimeblues.com to learn more.
- 3-4 pound chicken
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 1 celery, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme (optional)
- 1 bay leaf (optional)
- salt and pepper
Pat chicken dry with paper towel, inside and out.
Sprinkle a teaspoon of kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon of table salt) all over the chicken and let sit out for an hour.
Pre-heat oven to 425°F.
Combine chopped vegetables and seasoning in a small bowl. Be sure to include a teaspoon each of salt and pepper.
Stuff the chicken and truss the legs to seal it in. Tuck the wing tips underneath.
If crispy skin is desired, rub the skin with softened butter. Baste with pan juices halfway through cooking.
Generously sprinkle salt and pepper over the bird.
Place chicken in roasting pan atop chopped vegetables, bread, or on a rack to keep it off of the pan bottom.
Roast in the oven for fifteen minutes per pound plus an extra fifteen minutes. For example, 1 hour for a 3 pound chicken.
Check thickest part of thigh for 165°F doneness with an instant read thermometer. Return to oven in ten minute increments until done.
Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before carving.