Five days ago I helped a friend process nine of his chickens. That's a nice way of saying that I assisted in killing, scalding, and making ready for the pot nine birds of his dwindling flock of fifty. Having already assisted at a pig slaughter, I thought I could probably handle chickens. Don't get me wrong--killing animals is never easy, I just thought slaughtering small(ish, at this point) birds would be somewhat less affecting than doing the same to large mammals. And it was, though I was still only able to kill one of them--the second one I just couldn't do. The only good things about killing your own chickens (or those of someone you know) are knowing what they've been eating, where they've been living, that they were killed in the open air under sanitary conditions, and, of course, eating them. Well raised, happy chicken just tastes better, which I know because Y. was generous enough to give me one and I cooked it up this morning.
I have neither a decent-sized roasting pan nor a rack so I use my wide 3 1/2-quart Le Creuset and whatever vegetable/citrus fruit/tuber I happen to have on hand to keep my chicken off the bottom of the pot. Rings of onion or rounds of sweet potato are my favorites, but this morning I only had a lemon so I used that along with four cloves of fresh garlic. Resting your bird on food instead of a rack has its perks: you're left with some delicious morsels in the bottom of the pan. I wasn't sure what to do with the lemon and garlic, but I saved them anyway. At lunch I decided to make a sandwich with the wings and it occurred to me to spread the roasted garlic cloves on the bread. So I did. And it was good.
A well roasted chicken is a wonderful thing; a dry roast chicken is so disappointing. If you've ever heard the twenty-minutes-per-pound-plus-twenty-minutes rule, forget it. If I had followed it today I would have left my four-and-a-half pound chicken in the oven for 110 minutes or 20 minutes longer than the 90 minutes it took to roast it to moist, succulent perfection. After 90 minutes the juices were clear and 20 minutes of resting under foil ensured a done (and moist, 'cause it gives the juices a chance to run back into the meat) chicken. Never underestimate the power of holdover cooking.
Basic Roast Chicken
- 1 4 to 5-pound chicken
- 1 lemon
- 2 Tbs. butter
- freshly ground pepper
- an onion or potato or sweet potato or lemon ororor
- Bring your chicken to room temperature. This means leaving it on the kitchen counter for several hours, which might scare you, but it needn't.
- Preheat oven to 450°F. Instead of rinsing your chicken, cut a lemon into quarters and use to clean the chicken, rubbing it with the lemon wedges inside and out. Discard lemon.
- Cut onion or potato or sweet potato or lemon or whatever you choose into rings and arrange on the bottom of what you have chosen to roast your chicken in. Add a few whole cloves of garlic (peeled or not) if you feel like. Place chicken on sliced fruit/veg/tuber and tie up its legs. Melt butter and pour over chicken, using your fingers to make sure the butter is evenly distributed and covering everything. Season generously with salt and pepper.
- Place in 450-degree oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 375°F. Roast for an hour and a half. After this time check that the juices are running clear and remove from oven. Allow to rest 20 minutes under foil before carving.
Keep the carcass to make stock.
It is almost a shame that it turned out so well. I wish now that I'd saved it and shared it with somebody, but at least I'll be eating like a king this week.