Saturday, January 11, 2014

How to make a perfect Roast Chicken

I know it’s not a sweet recipe, but it is an essential one, so today we will be “Scientifically Savoury”!

Next to how to stitch a simple hem and memorizing the lyrics to Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life”, everyone should know how to roast a bird. It’s daunting to many, probably because it involves a giant piece of meat, the assumption of constant peeping and basting and a lingering fear of undercooking or recreating that bone-dry turkey scene from Christmas Vacation.

I’m about to tell you that it’s not that hard! Plus, it's cheaper and tastier to cook a whole chicken so why wouldn't you? Let's learn!
Roasting a whole chicken doesn’t require any more skill than roasting quarters, thighs or drumsticks. It doesn’t even require a special roasting pan. It just needs time, space and an oven thermometer.  

My favourite pairings with chicken are lemon, rosemary and garlic, so let me show you how I do it.

Lemon Rosemary & Garlic Roast Chicken

1.35 kg/3 lb free range chicken
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 medium onions, quartered
6 cloves garlic, divided
1 stem fresh rosemary
3 strips lemon zest
extra virgin olive oil
Maldon salt
freshly cracked black pepper

First, take your chicken out of the fridge 30 minutes before it goes into the oven. This will take the chill off and let it come closer to room temperature so that it cooks more evenly.

The next thing you might want to do is rinse off the bird and pat it dry. If you are using a free range bird, you probably don’t need to do this. Regardless though, I usually think the risk of contaminating your whole sink and counter space with raw chicken is worse than simply letting it be as it will be baked hot anyway. Usually all I do is pat it down with a paper towel and be done with it.

Next, set up your stage: You can use any shallow-type pan that is big enough to fit your bird. Even a rimmed cookie tray will do but something with high sides is better to protect it from drying out. We need to elevate the bird so that heat can circulate underneath and it cooks evenly. For this we use chunks of vegetables and this is also our secret to getting a side dish at the same time. Pile a bunch of very roughly chopped chunks of carrot, onion and 4 smashed cloves of garlic in the center of the roasting tray and drizzle with olive oil. This forms the base of our roast.

Flavour the bird: Combine the remaining two cloves of garlic, rosemary leaves and lemon zest on a cutting board and run your knife through it several times until you get a rather fine mince. Slide your fingers under the skin of the chicken to loosen it. Try to get as far as to loosen the skin over the drumsticks (it’s ok if the skin tears a little). Drizzle some olive oil over the flesh, under the skin and rub it in. Sprinkle most of your garlic/rosemary/lemon mixture, black pepper and salt over the flesh and under the skin and rub it in too. Do the same along the sides of the inner cavity to season from within. Rub olive oil over the outer skin to coat the bird and generously sprinkle with salt, pepper and some reserved rosemary mixture.

Tie the legs together: I use dental floss, but if you have kitchen twine, then use it… obviously. Take the tips of the drumsticks and bring them together, crossing them over one another. Then simply tie them together. This will prevent the tips from burning and hold all of the meat together so that it stays juicy and moist.

Assemble: Place the chicken breast-side-up over the vegetables in the roasting tray. For an extra side of veg, toss some chopped potatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary and scatter around the chicken.

Roast: To create a crispy, dark skin, preheat your oven to 450°F (230°C) and cook for 15 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 350°F (180°C) and roast for 20 minutes per pound, or 1 hour longer in this case.

When is it ready?
A whole chicken is cooked perfectly when a meat thermometer inserted into the inner thigh (close to the bone) reads 165°F (74°C). If you don’t have a thermometer, then this is what you look for: the juices should run clear when the chicken is pierced close to the bone and the drumstick should move around at the joint easily when you wiggle it.

Baste the chicken halfway through cooking and if the veggies look dry, add a splash of water to the tray to stop them from burning. Also, if the potatoes look ready, you can transfer them to a plate and keep them warm until ready to serve.

Rest: When you remove the chicken from the oven, transfer it to a cutting board or a serving plate and cover it loosely with aluminum foil. Let it rest for 10 minutes before carving. This lets it cool down just slightly so that the juices relax and don’t just run out all over the place when you cut into it. That way the juices stay in the meat to give you a moister chicken. It's actually a myth about the juices "redistributing". It's not an issue of distribution, it's an issue of very hot molecules which are very active and need to cool to slow down and thicken slightly so that the liquid or juice is less mobile. 

While the chicken is resting, make the gravy. Transfer carrots to a dish and set aside. Place the roasting tray over low heat. Skim extra fat off if you wish, and then mash up the garlic and onion well into the gravy. Mash a tablespoon of butter with a tablespoon of flour separately and then stir it into the gravy, scraping up any sticky bits from the base. Add a bit of black pepper and salt to taste and let it simmer while stirring until it thickens to your desired consistency. Strain the gravy into a small bowl and it’s ready to serve.

Once you see how easy and cost effective this is, I bet you'll make it a regular thing and not just a special occasion meal. 

Here's to the whole thing!

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