Roast Chicken

Roast Chicken…  A wonderful dinner any time of the year, but especially delightful on the cooler evenings when that warm, permeating savory smell of the roasting bird fills the entire house.  It makes those cold New England nights a little less harsh.  Few things could be better.  But, the bird itself is always a challenge.  How do you roast the chicken with out over cooking and drying the inside?  How do you get that wonderful crisp skin and yet juicy meat inside?  How do you get that salty, herby spice flavor to permeate into the bird?  It’s not easy, and of course there are a few tricks to help get it done right.  The easiest trick and probably most intimidating is a good brine.  But this adds significant sodium to the entire dish, and requires a 24 hr lead time.  I will save that recipe for another day.  The next method, which initially may seem more difficult, relies on some basic techniques and understanding of the cooking process.  Step by step, however, it is not difficult, and let me show you why:

First and foremost:  if you’re looking for that roasted flavor, that crispy on the outside juicy on the inside result, make sure the bird is as dry as possible before roasting it!  Any liquid (which includes the famous 1/2 lemon in the cavity) will create steam, which will of course begin steaming the bird instead of roasting.

Second is temperature control.  Leaving a bird in the oven at 350 degrees for 3 hours will cook it, but, you will end up with semi-crisp skin and breast meat that is severely overcooked and dry.  Beginning with a very hot oven and turning it down as you go will cook the bird slowly, properly, letting everything cook evenly and at the same rate, so in the end, everything is juicy and delicious.

Third is seasoning.  I use a herb compound butter which coats everything inside and out which does a couple things.  It forces seasoning into the bird, and creates a moisture barrier keeping the chicken as juicy as possible.  Applying a generous amount of kosher salt and black pepper also goes a long way!

Last is trussing the chicken.  This pulls the bird into the ideal roasting position, exposing as must of the leg meat as possible and keeping the cavity closed.  It is as important as any of the other steps.

This is a more complicated recipe due to the heavy emphasis on technique and preparation.  If done right, I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I do, and on those cold New England nights, it will be medicine for the soul.

Roast Chicken
prep time: 45 min
Cook time: 2 ½ to 3 hrs
portions: 3 (if you want more portions, buy a bigger chicken and increase the cooking time)
1 whole free range chicken, approx 8 lbs
½ bunch thyme
1 sprig rosemary
3 sprigs oregano
2 sprigs sage
1 bulb garlic, roasted in olive oil and cooled
2 lemons
olive oil (not extra virgin)
¼ lb organic unsalted butter, room temp
kosher salt
black pepper
spanish paprika
1 yard butcher twine
1 plastic piping bag
Clean and dry the chicken thoroughly inside and out. Trim off any excess fat. Fine chop all the herbs, reserving 2 sprigs thyme, and place in a food processor. Zest the lemons, and add the zest and the garlic to the food processor, along with the butter, ¼ tsp kosher salt, and about 2 tbsp oil. Run the machine until smooth. Transfer to the piping bag.
Place the chicken on a cutting board. With your fingers, loosen the skin covering the breasts without tearing or removing any skin. Using a small knife, make a small slit on joint where the leg meets the body cavity. Using the piping bag, squeeze the butter/herb mix into the slits and under the skin, massaging and working it in as you go. Squeeze more of the mix into the cavity of the bird and work in thoroughly. Insert the reserved thyme in the cavity. Once this is complete, truss the chicken with the butcher’s twine (youtube is the best place for a quick lesson if you’ve never done this before). Use the remainder of the mix to completely coat the outside of the chicken. Sprinkle the coated chicken with salt, pepper and paprika. Cover the wing tips with foil (otherwise they will burn).
Preheat over to 450 degrees.
Place chicken in a heavy bottom roasting pan and begin roasting. When the chicken becomes golden brown (about 30 min), turn the oven down to 200 degrees and roast for 1 hr 45 min. Do not open! Turn the oven back up to 450 and cook for another 30 min to recrisp chicken and ensure thorough cooking. Remove from oven and take temp reading from the thickest part of the leg. Thermometer should read 150 degrees and juices should run clear (traces of pink are okay, but dark coloring is a sign of undercooked). If under done, place back in the over (400 degrees) for another 20 mins and then retemp. When cooked, cover with foil and let rest in a warm place for 20 min. Remove twine and carve.
Serve with carrots, parsnips, potatoes, winter squashes, celery root, brussel sprouts, etc etc.  
(This is 1/2 the chicken, carved, with my homemade French bread, and port salute cheese.  Sometimes keeping it simple is the best!)

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