Monday, May 18, 2009

How to Roast a Chicken

I really never thought I'd be doing this but, lately I've been roasting chickens.  I've never considering myself the 'throw the hunk of meat in the oven and shut the door' kind of gal.  I mean, it wasn't that long ago that I considered myself a completely raw vegan.  Yeah, it's a bit of a leap, but lately I've been roasting chickens.  I suppose you learn a lot about food and even more about yourself when you go through 3+ years of nutrition education.  Juice it or eat it whole?  Got milk or got propaganda?  Honey or sucanat?  Eat meat or go veg? Along the way you confront those decisions, one by one.  Along the way you make those little decisions as they come to you, and before you know it you're eating entirely differently than you did before.  Stripped of your bias, your political proselytizing, your internet heresay, you have yourself a new outlook on food - and hopefully on cooking too.  

After years of taking a hard look at my food, and years of loving an omnivore (I say omni, because I finally got him to eat broccoli) I've made a bit of peace, and some subtle compromises, with my choices. 

Clarification: now I'm roasting organic chickens.

I still don't eat beef, and my meat intake continues to be much less than the average Jane, but I have a hungry guy to feed (and I'm usually pretty hungry too).  So I turn on the oven, slap that chicken onto the roasting pan, and call it dinner.  I feel... so... so... wifey.  Yes, I know how to make roast chicken for my man, and I can still be a confident feminist while saying it.

The first time I attempted this, I had to look up how to do it online.  I then looked into my good old reference cookbooks with all the classics.  Somehow, after doing it the fifth time, I finally got the hang of it.  It isn't complex, and even the first 5 times yielded something quite edible (and some would even say delicious).  It's actually so much more simple than making a big pot of chickpea stew.  You don't even need a meat thermometer, although I would advise picking up one for a few bucks simply for piece of mind.  

If you have an hour and a half to cook it, then the prep time is 15 minutes.  I mean, less prep time than some frozen dinners!  I don't understand why every graduate from every college across America isn't required to demonstrate how to properly roast a chicken before given his or her diploma.  I mean, we could seriously solve some pizza take-out issues in this country if all the 20-somethings could just throw a bird in the oven every couple of days.  I know I could have used the skill at age 21 when I was trying to save my food pennies for stiletto heels and short sparkly skirts to go out dancing in.  

A big hunk of animal can be terribly intimidating.  How do you cook it all the way through without it becoming something resembling jerky?  What if I don't cook it through and all my guests are keeling over onto my dining room table with food poisoning?  What if I touch it, it feels slimy and then I don't want to eat it for dinner anymore?  Okay, I can't help you with that one.  Just tell yourself it's a big slippery piece of tofu or something.

Step One:  What kind of chicken to buy?
I always recommend buying an organic chicken.  If you're lucky enough to have farmers at the local markets who sell their chickens, then I would recommend those.  The best chickens come from farmers who take care of their animals, give then space to roam and bugs to eat... happy chickens!  Otherwise, go to your natural foods store and ask about organically-raised animals.  At the very least you won't be eating the pesticides that they had been eating... and just maybe they were well-raised too.   However, I would always go with the happy chickens first, and you can't find those anywhere but roaming on small organic farms.  Find a chicken that's around 3-4 pounds.

Step Two: What do I cook it in?
I really like those roasting pans that happen to come with many ovens.  For most people who don't cook very much, those are the largest pans in the house.  Just take the bottom pan (not the top slotted part) and put the chicken, wings-down, in the center of the pan.  

Step Three: Prepping the chicken
This part is easy - just use the veggies and herbs you have in your kitchen!  With the chicken in the center of the pan, surround the bird with chopped potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, celery, kale, sliced lemons... whatever you have lying around.  If you have fresh herbs, load in tons of thyme, rosemary and sage on the veggies.  Stuff the bird with some herbs too, and some lemon slices as well.  Dried herbs are also nice, just don't skimp.  Dump 1/4 cup of the dried stuff around the bird.  Take some peeled garlic cloves and tuck them under the chicken's skin.  You may need to loosen it up with your fingers first (poke them under and explore around, separating the skin from the flesh underneath).  Put sea salt and cracked pepper on the skin and veggies.  Now take some flavorful liquid - water or white wine will do... or vegetable stock... and pour it around the chicken until you can't pour more, fearing you'll dump it everywhere when you lift the pan. 

Step Four:  Roasting It
Heat the oven to 425 degrees.  Put your chicken in the oven, and just let it cook for the first 20 minutes or so.  Open the door after that and pour the liquid over the chicken and the vegetables, moistening the skin.  You don't want the chicken to dry out.  Do this every 20 - 30 minutes.  The chicken should take no more than one and a half hours to roast.  You can make yourself feel more assured that you're not making chicken jerky by inserting the thermometer into the thigh meat - what does it read?  You know your chicken is just about done when it registers 160 degrees.  I like mine to be at 180 degrees, because then it is fall-off-the bone tender. You'll need the full hour and a half to reach this point.  However, if your chicken is larger you'll need more time.

You're done, now isn't that easy?  There may be a few finer points here and there to make it rock star awesome, but you can literally throw it in the oven and be a slacker, and it would still be delicious.

Okay everybody, your homework assignment is to roast a chicken.  Now get to it.  



Sus said...

Hm. I may just try this. I really like meat.

And if you ever want to throw a pig butt in the oven for dinner, I'm your girl.

Christine Weiss said...

Hmmmm, organic pig butt may work.

Stand by for consultation...

Regina said...

Matt's method is to stick a beer can up the chicken's butt and then proceed to make an icky mess of the oven.

Works though.