Learning to make a whole roast chicken is an experience every (meat-eating) home cook should have. It’s really quite easy, but a very impressive addition to your repertoire of skills and foods, not to mention delicious and such a typical home-cooked “comfort” food.
I was really excited to make my first roast chicken (I knew it would be a very satisfying cooking experience), especially since there was a really great sale on whole chickens (80 cents/lb!), so I got one for less than the cost of those pre-made ones at the grocery store (although I have to admit those are a great time saver for weekday dinners).
I started by washing the chicken in cold water and removing the giblet pack from the crevice of the chicken (don’t forget to do this, as they package it in plastic, so you’ll be in for a nasty surprise if you cook the bird with this still inside!). I patted it dry with a few paper towels. If you’re squeamish, the next part might not be your idea of fun, but basically you slip some slices of cold butter under the skin, using your fingers to separate the skin from the meat. You start at the part near the crevice, adding 2-3 slices of butter per side, pushing the butter towards the end of the breast. As the butter melts during the cooking, it helps keep the breast meat moist and juicy. In the future I’d like to experiment with adding different flavorings, including herbs (rosemary, thyme) and garlic, under the skin. Next, I salted the entire bird and place flavorings (lemon, garlic, onion, carrots, etc.) inside the cavity. I just learned that placing these things in the cavity not only adds flavor, but helps the breast from drying out during cooking, as the heat and air cannot reach the breast from underneath/inside to dry it out. You can also truss the chicken (e.g. tie up the legs) to get this same effect, but so far, I haven’t tried it, as I don’t have any kitchen string.My favorite presentation for roast chicken is in my cast iron skillet. Medium-sized birds (6 pounds or so) fit snugly in my 14-inch skillet. I added cut up potatoes, onions and carrots around the sides, but you can cook the bird without these.
I think the cooking time and temperature for a roast chicken are up for discussion, as I’ve seen many different variations. Some recipes call for a hot oven (~475*F) to start and then have you turn the heat down after a few minutes. Others keep a steady temperature the entire time. I tend to take the less “fussy” route and stick with an even temperature (~425*F) for 65-75 minutes. The chicken is done when the juices run clear. You can check this by cutting into the chicken near where the leg attaches to the thigh.
After you pull the chicken out of the oven, you should let it rest for 10-15 minutes so that the juices can get reabsorbed, leaving you with a moist, juicy chicken. I’ll have to admit my favorite part is the crispy, golden skin. I’d make this just so I can eat that part, although I usually make this so that we have leftover chicken for things like chicken enchiladas and chicken stock. Yes, for dual-purposes dishes!