Sunday, November 14, 2010

Whole Roast Chicken: Delicious any time of year

Yes, I do realize that it's not quite Thanksgiving yet. I know that it is right around the corner and I'm so excited to get together with family and friends and celebrate with delicious food. Doesn't get much better than that in my opinion. But no, I wasn't trying to make Thanksgiving come any faster. I already feel like fall is flying by way too fast, so I'm not trying to rush anything. I just got a craving for juicy, delicious roast chicken. By cooking the whole bird, you end up with a much juicier, more flavorful piece of chicken than when you cook the breast by itself. Sure it takes a little longer, but it's definitely worth it every once in awhile for a special treat. And you don't need to wait till Thanksgiving.
 Chickens are usually much smaller than turkeys so they don't take all day to cook like some of the birds we've gotten for past holidays. You can even go really mini with a Cornish game hen that can be prepared in the same way, in a lot less time, and are equally delicious. By roasting a whole chicken - the one I used was about 6.5 pounds - you not only get a delicious dinner one night, but you can use the bones to make stock and the leftover chicken for soup or pot pie. Homemade stock is really easy (I promise!) and so much better than anything you could buy in the store. I'll be sharing my stock making tips soon. I haven't decided yet whether I want to make chicken soup or pot pie, but I'll share that as well.
Anyway, getting back to that chicken. The most important ingredient to achieving a moist and juicy chicken is a meat thermometer. Do not rely on the little pop-up thing that some chickens (or turkeys) come with. By the time those things usually pop up, your bird will be dry dry dry. So buy a meat thermometer; they aren't expensive and are great for chicken, pork, steak, pretty much any meat you can cook.
Now that you have a meat thermometer, the rest is easy. Use the thermometer to check the chicken in between the thigh and breast, without touching the bone. It should read about 165˚ to 170˚F to be fully cooked. I know that most packages say 180˚, but again, this will be too dry. It keeps cooking a bit after you take it out of the oven so you want to pull it out before it gets to highest temperature before sawdust. At 165˚ it's safe to eat but still actually tastes good. The herbs stuffed inside also help, as does a good coating of salt and pepper. Serve the chicken with some gravy if you like, but it also tastes great on its own.

Whole Roast Chicken
  • 1/2 lemon, cut into quarters
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
  • 4 thyme sprigs
  • 2 rosemary stems
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 piece of butcher's twine, 3-4 feet long
  • 1 whole chicken (about 6 pounds)
Preheat oven to 425˚F. 
Gather all of the ingredients before dealing with the chicken so that you don't contaminate your containers and refrigerator. Combine salt and pepper in a small bowl.
Remove anything from the cavity of the chicken (sometimes the giblets will be in a bag) and rinse the chicken inside and out. Pat dry with a paper towel.
Stuff the cavity with lemon wedges, garlic, thyme and rosemary. Sprinkle a pinch of the salt and pepper mixture inside as well.
Loosen the skin away from the breast near the cavity and rub salt and pepper on the flesh, underneath the skin.
Use the remaining salt and pepper to rub the entire bird.
Truss the chicken using the butcher's twine. For a how-to video, click here. This keeps the bird neatly together so that everything cooks evenly. (You can still cook a tasty chicken without trussing if you want to skip this step.)
Place the chicken in a large pan and into the oven. Cook for about 15-20 minutes to let the skin brown.
Turn the oven temperature down to 375˚F and cook until the thermometer reads about 165˚ and the juices run clear. This will be about 1 hour 15 minutes to 1.5 hours for a 6 pound bird.
Remove the chicken and allow it to rest for about 10 minutes before cutting.
Cut the string and remove the herbs from the cavity. These are a great addition to gravy if you plan to make gravy too.
To cut the chicken, start with the legs and cut the skin connecting the leg and thigh to the breast. Gently pull the leg and thigh away from breast until the thigh bone snaps out of joint. Then cut away the meat to separate the thigh from the rest of the bird.
For the breasts, find the keel bone running along the center of the bird. Cut the breast away just next to the keel bone and down along the ribs.
For a more in-depth view of carving a bird, check out Alton Brown's video here.
Enjoy your juicy chicken and be sure to save the rest of the meat and all of the bones.

For a printable recipe click here

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