Monday, June 29, 2009

Recipe: Easiest Roast Chicken

Whenever there's a sale on whole chickens, I usually buy a couple. 69 cents/lb is hard to beat (unless it's 49 cents/lb), and you can do so many things with a whole chicken. Tomorrow I'll have to figure out how to take pictures while I break a raw one down (why hasn't someone invented a voice activated camera?), but last night I roasted a whole one.

Some recipes will tell you that you should rotate the chicken while it's cooking, or use different temperatures, etc., etc...but this recipe is called "easiest" for a reason. If I'm in a hurry to get this in the oven, it's just the chicken, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a 375 degree oven. But first you need to clean up the chicken a little bit. First, take it out of the packaging. Next, you'll need to remove the innards. I think some people do things with these, but I don't. If you're not interested in sticking your hand in there, just run water in the opening between the legs, then turn it over and dump it into the sink. The innards should fall out.There they are! You can even use a paper towel to grab them and throw them in the trash if you can't stomach touching them. Rinse the chicken and then dry it with a paper towel. You can't wash your hands too many times when handling raw chicken. Now's a good time. I use a 9x13 glass pan, but you can use whatever fits. Just remember that if you want to put potatoes or carrots (or both) in there, you'll want some room for them to lay in the tasty chicken juice.

This is where you can get fancy. Carefully loosen the skin over the breasts--they kind of form a pocket which can be stuffed with all sorts of things: butter, herbs, roasted garlic paste, ginger and soy sauce, etc. You can stuff things in the cavity (I threw in some lemon halves because I had them). I'll go over some combos at the end. If you're going for easy, just rub olive oil all over the chicken, then sprinkle some kosher salt and pepper over it.
I love breast meat, but it can get dry...since I break down the chicken in the kitchen, I don't worry about presentation. The best way to keep breast meat moist is to cook the chicken with the breast down. I don't worry about tying the chicken either, and this keeps things in the cavity from popping out too.
That's it! Pop that bird in the oven and set the timer for 40 minutes. It won't be done, but you can add some carrot chunks and quartered red potatoes.

Put it back in the oven...mine took another 30-45 minutes, but basically you're waiting until a meat thermometer hits around 180 degrees behind the thigh. You don't have a meat thermometer? Go buy one. Mine has saved me many a time from wondering if my food will make me sick (or overcooking a ribeye...such a waste). That whole 'juices running clear' thing seems pretty unscientific to me. Take out the potatoes and cover with foil--you can also throw them in another pan, cover with foil, and throw them back in the oven to keep warm. Take the chicken out of the pan, put it on a cutting board (ideally with grooves to catch the juice) or plate, and cover with foil to keep warm.
Now comes the fun part, and in my opinion, the best reason for making roast chicken! Although I feel that a meat thermometer is non-negotiable, I have yet to purchase a gravy separator, mostly because I remember I don't have one as I take the chicken out of the oven (as opposed to at the store). Here's my ghetto fix...I pour the juices into a tall glass, then use a turkey baster (which, for some reason, I do have) to suck off the fat and put it in a frying pan. You could also tip the glass and use a spoon. I recommend adding some water to the pan and scraping up the brown parts--throw that in the cup too. Basically, you want to separate most of the fat from the juice so you can make a roux. A roux is a mixture of flour and fat that will help thicken the gravy. I'm rather unscientific when it comes to how much flour...I like gravy, so I usually go overboard. I think 1:1 or 1:2 (fat:flour) is a good rule of thumb. Mine made a thick paste by the time I finished adding flour.
The key here is to let it cook at least five minutes. Although it starts out as a paste, it should loosen up and get thinner. The browner the roux, the more flavor it has, but the less thickening power as well. If you want flavor, you're shooting for a nutty brown color.Carefully add your chicken juice at this point. It'll splatter, so add it slowly and stir. If you've added all your chicken juice and it's still pretty thick, you can add water, but chicken broth will add more chicken flavor. How thick is up to you, so keep adding broth until it looks good. Add some salt and pepper and you're good to go.I definitely prefer carving the chicken in the kitchen...they tend to slide around a lot. This is very similar to breaking down a raw chicken. First, you want to pop the thighs out of their joints. Cut down between the thigh and breast, and basically bend it till you hear it pop. If you can see the joint, just cut past that along the body until it comes off. Same with the other.
The wings are the same way, although a little hard--you may need to cut through the joint. If you think no one will eat them, just leave them alone (my picture didn't really turn out well there anyway).
For the breast, you want to slice it across the grain, which is really perpendicular to the breast bone. It's easiest if you take the whole breast off--just cut down the middle on either side of the breast bone and follow the curve out and under the breast. Slice and add to the plate.
There it is! This is getting long, so I'll post the recipe for the beans tomorrow (they're super easy) as well as what to do with the chicken carcass and some ideas for fancier chicken.

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