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Sunday, April 20, 2014

perfect roasted chicken

Alright, I know what you're thinking. Everyone can roast a chicken, right? Wrong. You've been doing it wrong! (Most likely. Am I complacent? No...)

I did it wrong for years. I also kept roasting birds that had beautiful crispy, savory crackling (skin) and red, still slightly raw insides. I can't count how many times my husband has been served a roast chicken dinner, the bird at the table in resplendent glory and my red face beaming with a love-me-now newly-wed pride, only to be shoved unceremoniously back into the oven for another 30 minutes, drying out the breast meat in the process. Sometimes, I cried.

Roasting a chicken isn't all that tricky, actually. There are some basic rules that, if followed, should ensure a beautiful roast every time without bursted pride bubbles.

1. Get the right kitchen tools.
I like a roasting rack as pictured above. The height the bird sits is variable by how wide you set the sides, which means I can use the same rack for a turkey as well as a chicken. Place the roasting rack in a casserole dish, so that the bird is sat above the dish to catch any drips during cooking but also so you can add water to the dish to maintain moisture in the meat. The drippings can be repurposed directly into a gravy to serve with the meal, thickened with a little flour while the bird sits for 10 minutes before serving, or saved to add to a batch of homemade bone stock.

2. Get the right ingredients.
A classic easy lemon roast chicken is my go-to, but there are many ways you can season the bird. You need an astringent, such as lemon or orange juice, or vinegar, about the juice of one fruit or 3-4 Tbs. I like lemon juice most often. You need a fat, about 2-3 Tbs. I like olive oil, but you can use many others. You need seasonings, about 1-2 Tbs. Plain old Celtic sea salt and cracked black pepper are staples, but you can add any variety of other things, too, such as dried or fresh herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano), and dried or fresh finely ground or minced garlic and onion, ground turmeric, paprika, cumin, coriander... If using a fresh lemon or orange, stuff the squeezed out rinds inside the cavity of the bird. If you don't have rinds, you can use sticks or diced up stems of herbs, carrots, onions, celery, and other veg, to maintain the moisture in the meat as well as increase flavor.

3. Get your backbone up.
And this is really the secret here. I got it from a Jamie Oliver cooking show a few years ago and it really has made all the difference. Roast birds breast side down. Really. I know, they're always pictured breast side up, but there is a reason so many people prefer dark meat -- the white meat from the breast portions have been roasted breast side up, and all the moisture has drained from top to bottom during cooking, leaving the breasts dry. So get your backbone up. Not your breasts.

So, you have your tools and ingredients all lined up in little pots, as pictured above, so that you don't have to worry about getting raw chicken juice on the olive oil bottle and your spices are ready to slap on quickly.

Preheat the oven to 425 F.
Place the bird on the rack, over the casserole.
Pour 3-4 Tb lemon juice over the bird and rub in.
Pour 2-3 Tbs olive oil over the bird and rub in.
Pour 1-2 Tbs salt, pepper and optional spices over the bird and rub in.
Settle the bird nice and high in the rack, breast side down, and with wings and legs firmly wedged underneath itself.
Add 2 cups water to the casserole dish.

4. Finally, get the temperatures and cooking times right. The average cleaned chicken weighs about 5 lbs. Start with this basic rule of thumb, and for a larger or smaller bird adjust the overall cooking time accordingly.

Roast the dressed bird for 30 minutes at 425 F, and then a further 90 minutes at 375 F, totaling 2 hours altogether.

So if the bird goes in the hot oven at 4 pm, you can serve dinner at 6. If you bird weighs more than 5 lbs, add 15 mins to the cook time for each pound heavier. If lighter, subtract 15 mins from the cook time for each pound. In most cases, though, my chickens vary between 4 1/2 and 5 1/2 lbs each and I still find that the 30-90 at 425-375 is a good rule to run with.

To check the bird for doneness, just to be sure it is cooked properly, the best place to check is under the thigh near the ribs. Slide a sharp knife in and watch the juices. They should run clear. Pull the leg out a little from the bird and look at the meat close to the ribs. Any redness should be dark and properly cooked. If there is any bright color or the juices do not run clear, pop the bird back into the oven for another 15 minutes. Most birds cooked properly will start to fall off the bone with a sharp tub on the leg, so when checking, be careful not to pull too hard if you are hoping to present the whole roast on a dish at the table.

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