PERFECT ROAST CHICKEN
Given another roast chicken came out beautifully this week – and given the ease! – I figured I would dive into the eternal Roast Chicken debate and throw out my own recipe, cribbed from a variety of places. As capeanne wrote below in her chicken post, never a scrap left.
First let me say I just love a great roast chicken. When done right, there are few things better in the world. Over the years, in a personal quest for the perfect roast chicken, I have tried just about every method there is … brining, slow cooking at low temps, turning the chicken on its side then on its breast during the roasting time in the oven, searing it first, etc, etc. Each way has its pros and cons, each way taught me something. I’ve finally come to the conclusion, however, now proven out many times, that there is a simple, easy way to make a perfect roast chicken that doesn’t involve a ton of drama. The only real work with my method comes from making your own preserved lemons (recipe included below). But even preserving your own lemons is extremely easy, and once you have a container of preserved lemons in your fridge, you can have this roast chicken any day of the week. (You’ll also then have these lemons for months, to use in a variety of ways. I am never without them anymore, they are so terrific and so versatile.)
Here then is my method, which stems in a large part from Barbara Kafka’s book ROASTING, a book I highly, highly recommend.
Notes: I don’t brine. Sure, it might make it even better. But this chicken is already so terrific, it just doesn’t seem worth the effort. And a highlight of this recipe is ease. If you have the time to season the chicken a few hours before you cook it, excellent. But if you are in a rush and must season it then immediately put it in the oven, it will still turn out well. I don’t have set amounts of seasonings and vegetables because I never do it exactly the same, which is another reason this recipe is so easy. Just have fun with it. When you make it this way, taste your preserved lemons to see how salty they are. Each batch comes out a little differently. If they are a batch that has a lot of salt to the taste, you won’t need to add much salt, if any, to the chicken.
Also, I always roast my chicken with vegetables. Potatoes, carrots and onions in the roasting pan are wonderful with the butter and chicken fat and herbs. You can certainly roast it alone, though; the recipe remains the same.
1 large chicken (the higher quality, the better)
4 - 6 cloves of garlic, both chopped and whole
herbs (I use thyme and sage)
salt and pepper
2 potatoes, cut in large pieces
3 carrots, cut in 2 inch pieces or 12-14 smaller carrots, whole
2 yellow onions, peeled and cut into quarters or about 10 cipollini onions
Season the chicken:
(I’ve made these directions lengthy, to make sure they are clear. But this takes about 5 minutes tops if all the ingredients are ready)
Rinse the chicken inside and out with water, then pat dry. Liberally pepper the inside of the chicken, the rub the inside of the chicken with a lot of the ‘goop’ from your preserved lemons. Then add to the chicken cavity: 1 onion quartered, 2 or 3 slices of the preserved lemon, 2 or 3 whole cloves of garlic, a few sprigs of Thyme and Sage or whatever herb you choose to use.
Place the chicken on a platter if you have time to let it sit after you season it. If not, go ahead and put it in the roasting pan. (I like to use a large cast iron skillet. I have an enormous one that works wonderfully, but a regular roasting pan is fine.) Work your fingers underneath the breast skin, taking care not to tear the skin. You just want to gently pull the skin away from the breast meat. As you do so, work your fingers down the sides of the breast as well. When the skin has pulled away, take more ‘goop’ from the preserved lemons and rub it underneath the skin, onto the meat. Then add chopped garlic and thyme leaves. Bring your fingers out and massage the skin from the top, spreading the lemon and garlic and thyme all around, under the skin, massaging the skin back into place.
Take more of the ‘goop’ from the preserved lemons and rub it all over the chicken. Liberally sprinkle pepper all over the chicken, then sprinkle thyme leaves, chopped sage (or herb of choice) and little dots of butter all over the chicken. At this point, you can put the chicken in the fridge to sit for a couple of hours, making sure to remove it about an hour before you cook it, so it is at room temperature when you put it in the oven. Or, you can go ahead and cook it right away. Scatter the chopped vegetables all around the chicken in the pan right before you put it in the oven, adding salt, pepper, herbs and dots of butter to the veggies as well.
Cooking the chicken:
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
Your cooking time is based on weight, about 10 minutes per pound. I cooked a 4-pounder last night. I left it in the over for 40 minutes, then let it sit out of the oven for about ten more minutes, and it was perfect. Just base the time on the chicken weight. In a 500 degree oven, with ten minutes per pound and ten minutes to sit after you pull it out of the oven, it comes out exactly right every time. The only time you even need to open the oven is if you want to turn the veggies, so they get a little crispy. But you can also just stick it in the oven, close the door, turn on the timer and not worry about it. No turning the chicken side to side, no changing the temperature up and down… it is so easy and so, so good. With a green salad and some bread on the side, it’s an incredible, easy meal.
PRESERVED LEMONS (I always double this recipe, I use them so much.)
2 lemons, preferably organic
1/3 cup Coarse Sea Salt
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
About 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Scrub the lemons and dry them well. Cut each lemon lengthwise into 8 wedges. In a bowl, toss the lemon wedges, salt and lemon juice to coat the fruit. Transfer to a 2-cup glass container with a non-metal lid. Close the container tightly and let the lemons ripen at room temperature for 7 days. She the container daily to evenly distribute the salt and juices. To store, add olive oil to cover and keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.