Perfect Roast Chicken

16 Aug

There’s a reason rotisserie chicken has taken off in popularity in recent years: cooked right, it’s perhaps the ultimate comfort food. It reminds us of dinner at Grandma’s house with the whole family gathered around. The perfect roast chicken is a thing of beauty, and it’s among the dishes I crave when life gets a little rough around the edges.

Roasting a chicken sounds so simple that it’s surprising when the bird emerges from the oven either too dry or not cooked enough. Juicy meat and a crispy skin are the hallmarks of perfect roast chicken, and it can be tricky to achieve both of those things in a home oven.

I started making whole roast chicken about three years ago, when my kids started really enjoying grown-up food. They eat the legs and thighs and DH and I enjoy the wings and breasts, and for about $7 and the cost of some vegetables, our family eats for two nights. You can’t beat that.

I started out with a recipe from Michel Richard (**swoon**) that involved lemons and onion and had you start the chicken out in a 350 degree oven for an hour, take the bird out and crank the hot-box up 100 degrees, and finish it at the higher temperature, to give you that prized juicy/crispy combo. It was delicious, but a little more involved and time-consuming than I was looking for with two kids running around and a business to keep moving.

Then I tried a recipe from Ina Garten that whipped the time-consuming part and did produce the juicy/crispy thing, but didn’t have the same amazing flavor of Richard’s bird. So these days, I combine the two recipes, using Richard’s seasoning and ingredients with Garten’s oven technique. And voila–the perfect roast chicken (in my humble opinion, of course).

You’ll notice I don’t truss my bird, and I don’t see any reason to. The lemon will stay put in the cavity and hold everything else in there, and the wings won’t burn if you make sure they’re tucked underneath before the chicken goes into the oven. Why spend time with twine?

You also don’t need a roasting rack. I have one. It’s at the very tippy-top of my pantry, where I need a chair to get it down. I pull it out to make turkey at the holidays and that’s it. Laying your chicken directly on sliced onion and the vegetables of your choice (un-peeled garlic is amazing too) gives it tons of flavor and lifts it plenty high enough to be out of its own drippings. That’s a Michel Richard trick, and I swear by it.

A lesson I learned: We all love olive oil. I know. Me too. But you can’t substitute olive oil for butter in this recipe. I mean, you can, but it’s going to trash your oven. The oil will spatter and spit all over the place. If I don’t have time for a three-hour roast chicken, I absolutely don’t have time to be scrubbing out my oven afterwards. So stick with the butter this time around. And do that even if you’re not going to eat the chicken skin. It helps seal in the juices into the meat, and we want that very much.

The other key to this is to pull your chicken out of the oven and let it rest a good 20 minutes before you think about it any further. Don’t touch it. Ignore that bird! Let the juices settle in there before you go attacking it with a knife. It won’t get cold, I promise, and you’ll be rewarded with a much more delicious meal. You can tent it with foil while you wait if you want, but it’ll de-crisp the skin a bit.

This is a great meal to take to someone who’s had a baby or is facing an illness. Pair it with some honey-roasted sweet potatoes and a green salad, and you’ve got a comforting dinner that almost everyone will love. I don’t salt or pepper my bird, but feel free to do that if you want a traditional rotisserie taste to the skin.

To make my favorite roast chicken, you’ll need:

1 lemon, quartered

1 head of garlic, outer paper removed and cut in half width-wise (so the cloves are halved but the halves of the head stay intact)

1 large or 2 medium yellow onions, peeled and sliced thickly (leave the rings together)

3 or 4 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 tablespoons of butter, melted.

1 roasting chicken (whatever size your family will eat)

Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees. Coat a 9 x 13 pan (I prefer a Pyrex dish) with cooking spray.

Line the dish with your onion slices. If you wish, add some baby carrots or potatoes to the onion.

Remove the neck and giblets from the cavity of your chicken. Rinse and pat it dry. Stuff the cavity with two quarters of the lemon, half the garlic, the thyme, and then the other half garlic and lemons.

Brush the melted butter all over the chicken, and lay it on the vegetables breast-side down, tucking the wing tips underneath. Move the whole dish to the oven and roast for 1 – 2 hours, until a thermometer inserted into the center of the thigh reads 165 degrees and the juices run clear.

Remove the chicken from the oven. Let it rest at least 20 minutes before you empty the cavity (discard the contents) and slice the bird for serving.


ps–You can do this in the Crockpot. Prepare the bird the same way with the butter and the veggies inside, and then lay it on top of the onions in your slow cooker. Let it go at least 8 hours. You won’t get the crispy brown skin and it’ll have a slightly different texture to the meat, but it’s still delicious. This is especially great if you want the meat for another recipe (enchiladas, soup, etc) because it’s particularly tender cooked this way.

3 Responses to “Perfect Roast Chicken”

  1. krishna August 16, 2010 at 9:45 am #

    I’m going to try this in a couple weeks. I roasted my first chicken 10 days ago and put rosemary and sliced potatos under it and the rosemary gave a great flavor but the skin did not crisp. I used left over chicken for chicken salad that was wonderful!

  2. Mary m August 17, 2010 at 6:43 pm #

    Totally trying this recipe too! Sounds super easy and we love chicken!

  3. Tracey Kloskowski March 27, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

    I think I found a winner for tomorrow’s dinner! Can’t wait to try this =D

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