by John Ryan
I was sitting in my neighborhood coffee shop, Higher Grounds, when my friend Frank comes in. "Hey John," he says, "You like to cook..." then he looks me up and down, "And it's no secret that you like to eat, so tell me, when was the last time you had a bad roasted chicken?"
"I guess that some have been better than others," I said, "but I don't remember a bad one."
"Me neither. But I keep seeing articles about roast chicken and the writers always start out by saying how many dismal chickens they've had."
"I hope their friends don't see these articles...at least not the ones that've been inviting them to dinner."
"Hadn't thought of that." Frank mused, "Anyway, even though these writers sound like authorities, you've got to wonder how long it's been since they roasted a chicken. Take this chef I was listening to on the radio. He was explaining how the dark meat takes so much longer than the white meat and starts talking about protecting the breast with a foil tent. Then, get this, he starts describing how to make one. Just what I need, an origami lesson on the radio! Anyway, that proved it."
"I don't follow." I said.
"Don't you people pay attention? I mean, have you looked at the breasts on these birds?"
"I guess not." I said.
"We're talkin' big! I swear, with these modern birds it almost takes longer to cook the breast than it does to cook the legs. So that chef...I bet if we sent a hidden camera into his restaurant we'd find out that he doesn't even roast the chickens...that one of his gophers has been doing the job for years. But I've got another beef."
"You mean chicken."
"No, beef...well, whatever. All these articles treat chicken like it was the second coming of Thanksgiving. Now I like chicken, but who serves roast chicken to company? Or even a big family? When was the last time you cooked a chicken for a crowd?"
"Me, I wouldn't." I said. "If there's more than about three people, there isn't enough white meat and nobody's happy. Besides, by the time you carve a chicken so everybody can get a little of what they want, the meat is stone cold." "My point. So what do you do?" Frank asked.
"With just two of us, I chop it in half and put it on the plate."
"There you go," he said.
"So, are you roasting a chicken tonight?" I asked.
"Don't know...but if I do, you can bet that it won't be wearing a foil teepee."
This is a chicken for two, maybe three people. Granted, if you are serving appetizers, salad, a couple side dishes and dessert, a chicken will serve five or six, but for day to day eating I serve chicken with mashed potatoes and maybe a salad and call it a day. One thing I gave up on a few years ago was trussing the legs. I admit that a trussed bird looks snappy, but even with today's bigger-breasted chickens, the thigh meat is what holds things up. By roasting a bird legs akimbo, the thighs cook faster than if they're tucked up tight against the bird.
The natural juices. For being so simple, the juices are surprisingly good. I should say, however, that they won't be enough to drown the bird and smother your mashed potatoes. I mean, it's not gravy, it's just a little extra. After dinner, if you're so inclined, Pick off any meat you want for chicken salad sandwiches and put it away. Put the bones, neck, heart, and kidney in a pot with water to cover. Simmer for an hour or so, then strain the broth. Now this broth won't be any miracle of flavor, but it will be an honest broth you can use for a future soup. A word about carving: I'm not a fan of trying to carve a chicken like a turkey. It generally messes up the crispy skin. And unless you're Benihana with a knife, the chicken is cold by the time you get it cut up and arranged on a platter. I simply cut the bird in half. To do this, use a big knife or cleaver. First, slice through the skin down the middle of the breast, then simply press down to cut through the breast and back. If you want to remove the legs, grab the end of a leg and bend it away from the bird. Again, slice through the skin around the upper thigh, and then twist. The leg will usually pull right out. If you can, pour all the juices that collect on your cutting board into the roasting pan.You need:1-1/2 hours
1) Turn the oven on the 425 degrees. Prep the chicken**. (Keep the neck. Refrigerate the bag of organs or throw them away.)
2) Put the thyme and garlic in the cavity, rub the skin with butter or oil, sprinkle the breast and legs generously with salt and pepper and set the chicken breast-side-down in your roasting pan. It should have its butt in the air, like it's looking under a sofa for a dime. Put the neck in the pan and bake for 30 minutes.
3) Turn the chicken over. (I do this by putting a wooden spoon in the chicken, lifting it up and using a leg to turn it.) Roast another 40 minutes or so-until the chicken is well browned and an instant-read thermometer in the meatiest part of the thigh reads 170 degrees. 4) Tip the bird so the juices inside go back into the pan and put the chicken on a cutting board. Add the water to the pan and scrape up any stuck bits. Return the pan to the oven. 5) Let the bird rest for about 10 minutes before carving. 6) After you carve the bird, pour any juices from the cutting board into the roasting pan. Stir it up and pour it all into a measuring cup. The fat will quickly float to the top. Pour, then spoon most of it off. You should have about 1/3 cup of pan juices. (Discard the neck, garlic, and thyme.)
*The right pan:
If the roasting pan is too big the juices spread out and burn. The right pan or dish is fairly shallow and surrounds the bird enough so it doesn't drip onto the oven floor.
**Basic chicken prep:
1) Look for deposits of fat around the tail, yank them off and throw them away.
2) Look in the cavity. Pull out the bag of organs and the neck.
3) Rinse the bird inside and out. Dry the skin with a paper towel (this is because oil or butter won't stick to a wet bird).
4) Twist the wings behind each shoulder so it looks like the bird is sunning itself in a lawn chair.
Both chef and musician, John Ryan wrote the Just Good Food blog from 1996 through 2001.
This page created 1997. Modified August 2007.
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