I am descended from poultry royalty. It’s true. My handsome Pop worked at, managed, and then owned a poultry plant/store outside Philly from the time he was in high school to his retirement in 1988. He knew more about chicken before he turned 18 than most people learn in their lifetime. (He also married a lovely feisty Kentucky girl, so you can imagine what sorts of fried chicken heaven my mother grew up in).
Alas, I was never one with the bird. I have no problem eating it, but I threw a fit any time I had to actually work with the vile naked chicken bodies. Just…so…fleshy…and bony!…at the same time!!!
Then my Pop and Grammie came to visit us in Columbus about 7 years ago. We asked Grammie to make her signature Kentucky fried chicken OF COURSE, and the two of them set out to prep the full fryer birds we had bought for the occasion. My Pop asked for a knife, so I handed him what I thought was my sharpest and best knife. He then proceeded to attempt to break down these birds with the equivalent of a piece of rebar. It was not pretty, many choice words were said, and the man/bird struggle ended in him turning around, facing me, and saying, “Bethie, you need some better knives.”
(You had better believe I secured myself a brand-new Wusthoff knife set as soon as humanly possible after that! Which has entirely changed the way I cook on multiple levels, but that is for another post.)
He then set to explaining to me how to properly break down a chicken, though I can never hope to be as swift and accurate as he was. That was the beginning of my love of working with chickens and poultry – and they have become a staple in our household year-round.
Although we LOVE rotisserie chicken for those busy weekdays, my favorite way of cooking chicken is a simple roast. I almost always have all the ingredients handy, and if I’m working from home to be able to be near the oven for 2 hours, it’s an easy thing to throw together.
The two main things about a roast chicken are TEXTURE and FLAVOR. You want the meat juicy and well-flavored, and the skin browned and crispy. So, the FLAVOR: Chop 1 carrot, 1 celery stalk, 1 small onion, a few cloves of garlic, and 1 lemon or lime into 1-inch pieces. Gather 3-4 TBS butter, kosher salt, ground pepper, and handful of thyme.
Unwrap your chicken – I use a 5-6 pound roasting chicken. Remove all the bits inside, rinse it in cool water, and pat dry.
Turn it breast-side up, and take all the lovely veggies and herbs that you have assembled and shove them in that bird. Make sure that you get a good blend of them throughout the cavity so you are able to mix the flavors well. If you have extras, place them under the legs and wings, close to the body.
Once you’re done stuffing, take your knife and cut a few inch-long holes in the skin, on the breast, the legs, and thighs.
Take the butter and shove pinches of it under the skin.
This is what it will look like with the butter under the skin.
Then take the rest of the butter (2-4 TBS) and rub it over the skin. (If you haven’t properly dried the skin, this will be difficult.) You can also melt the butter and drizzle it over the bird. And then liberally cover with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.
And, the TEXTURE: Throw it onto the center rack of an oven preheated to 425 degrees. (Let me make a note about this, most ovens have a “preheat” time after which they are supposedly “at temperature.” Do not believe these lies. Get yourself an in-oven thermometer and use that as your go-by! At the very least, especially when you’re heading north of 400 degrees, give it at least 15, if not 20 minutes. You’ll thank me!) I know you’re going to want me to tell you an exact time to put it in for, but that’s not the question to be asking. The best way to ensure the perfect texture of a roast chicken is to use a meat thermometer pierced into the breast, but not touching the bone. You’re waiting for it to get to 165 degrees, and the juices running clear. A thermometer is the best way to tell you that.
BONUS! Because I’m assuming you’re not animals who would JUST eat the delicious chicken by itself (although we have TOTALLY done that…), chop orange and yellow peppers (or green, if you have it!), an onion, and some green onions. Let’s keep it simple.
Saute those in some olive oil or butter until soft and slightly browning.
Then throw in one of those great jarred curry or masala sauces – you can find them at Trader Joe’s, in the international food section of regular grocery stores, or at specialty Indian groceries (Patel Brothers!!!). Salt to taste.
And if you have a rice cooker (or even if you don’t), throw some basmati rice in, steam it, and mix with the chopped green onions for a great side.
Once your chicken hits 165 degrees, you can take it out. I’ll go back on what I said before and say that this USUALLY takes around 1.5 hours. But if it’s less, it’s less! Take it out! Cover with foil and let it rest for 20 minutes.
Bask in the glory of your creation (and that crispy, buttery skin!).
Carve them into large pieces and serve next to the rice covered in the sauce mixture, OR eat the skin while it’s still burning your fingers, and then shred into pieces and stir into the sauce mixture and serve with naan. Enjoy!
1 5-6# roasting chicken
1 bunch thyme
1 lemon or lime, halved
6-7 cloves garlic
1 large yellow or white onion, chunked
1 carrot, chunked
1 stalk celery, chunked
1 stick of butter
Fresh ground pepper
DIRECTIONS: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Remove any giblets and rinse the chicken in cool water. Pat skin dry and lay breast-up on roasting pan. Stuff the cavity with the thyme, garlic, lemon/lime, onion, carrots, and celery. Make small cuts in the skin, and place pieces of butter under the skin in 5 or 6 places. Rub outside of skin with butter (either warmed with hands or melted), and liberally cover with kosher salt and ground pepper. Roast the chicken until the inner temperature hits 165 degrees (about 1.5 hours), and the juices run clear. Remove chicken and cover with foil for about 20 minutes. Serve and enjoy!