No spring chickenBobby R. Presents Thursday, March 24th, 2011
Last weekend was my birthday and with it the reminder that I am not getting any younger. Reflecting on life and age, I looked to staples I have in my life – such as family, friends and my love of cooking. I also thought of culinary staples for the column and decided that roasting a chicken was a good process to describe as an essential for any home cook becoming more august. So using the “spring chicken,” which I am not, let’s roast a bird.
The easiest method to roast a chicken is to use salt, herbs and butter as a rub. I use about a pound of butter (which is greater than most recipes but yields a delicious bird) brought to room temperature mixed with lots of salt, dried thyme, pepper and lemon zest. You can incorporate any herbs and spices you like for a more specific flavor profile, but I think simple is best. The butter mixture is used as a rub to massage the entire chicken; under the skin, over the skin and in the cavity of the bird.
But before we can give the chicken a nice butter massage, we must first prepare it for use. This is the most daunting aspect of a roast chicken, but goes quickly after some practice.
Begin with a completely clean and clear, non-porous, work surface close to the sink. Open the chicken package from the drumstick side in the sink. Turn on the cold water to a medium stream so it does not splash around the outer sink area.
I have larger hands so I can grab the chicken by both drumsticks with one hand while I pull away the packaging with the other. Remove the giblet package from the chicken with your free hand and begin to rinse the bird thoroughly inside and out. Use paper towels to pat down the chicken with your free hand, using as many as necessary to completely dry the bird inside and out. Then place on the work surface.
Although not necessary, I like to smooth butter underneath the skin as well as on top of it. This ensures very moist meat. Being careful not to tear the skin, gently insert the handle of a spoon (or your finger) underneath the skin of the breast at the neck end and slide it back and forth breaking the seal between the two. Slide a tablespoon of the softened butter mixture under the skin of each side of the breast and massage it evenly under the surface. Repeat the process with the chicken thighs and legs using a half tablespoon beneath the skin.
The remaining butter can now be massaged on the outer surface of the bird thoroughly and evenly.
The last step in preparing the bird is stuffing and trussing. I recently watched an episode of the French Chef with Julia Child where she binds the bird like something out of an S&M movie, then spanks it on the ass (no joke), which I assure you is unnecessary.
First, stuff the cavity of the bird with roughly chopped aromatics, such as carrot, onion and celery. Take the small wing tips and bend them so that they are tucked underneath the neck end of the bird.
Lastly, using kitchen twine, tie the legs as taunt to the body as possible crossing them at the ankle like a lady. You can spank the bird now, if you wish, but it will not add anything to the flavor.
Once prepared for the oven, roasting the bird is easy. There are a couple of methods I use depending on the size and my mood: The chicken can be placed on a flat rack in a shallow pan and cooked with little basting and one 180 degree turn half way through cooking.
If you do not have a flat rack, a single layer of thickly chopped carrots and onions tossed in oil will do the trick. For a more evenly browned bird, place it in a V-rack and roast it in a deeper pan.
I start with the bird on its side and rotate it three times until it is breast side up where it will finish roasting, registering an internal leg temperature of 175 degrees when done.
If you find the bird to be browning too quickly, a loose aluminum foil tent will protect the skin as the meat finishes off.
Each year, my birthday gets easier and easier to manage as will the roasted chicken with practice; yielding a wonderfully browned specimen speckled with spots of seasoning and juicy, flavorful meat. Perhaps I’ll start to massage myself with butter to secure my suppleness after being bound and smacked on the bottom to celebrate the next year of my life. So with Julia Child in mind, I bid you farewell with, “Bon appetit.”
Simple roasted chicken
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and move the top rack to center.
6 tablespoons softened butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Prepare one whole chicken (4-5 pounds) as described in the column, being sure any excess fat is pulled away from the neck cavity. Under each side of the breast skin, smooth one tablespoon of the butter mixture. Smooth half a tablespoon under each thigh and leg. Sprinkle the chicken with a scant amount of salt and pepper, inside and out, and rub down with the remaining butter mixture. Fill the cavity of the bird with unpeeled onion quarters, some thickly chopped carrot, two (optional) lemon quarters and some small celery stalks.
Truss and place on a flat rack (or layer of thick cut onions and carrots) in a roasting pan and roast for 45 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and continue to roast for an additional 30-45 minutes periodically checking the browning of the skin. If the skin is becoming too brown, use a piece of tinfoil to loosely cover the breast cinching it to the sides of the roasting pan so it is not in direct contact.
Take the temperature of the chicken in the thickest part of the thigh after the last 30 minutes. The chicken is done when the temperature registers 175 degrees (cooking times will have to be adjusted for larger or smaller birds). Allow the chicken to sit covered for 15 minutes. The internal temperature will rise 10 degrees out of the oven and the juices will evenly redistribute through the meat.
Carve the chicken and serve with your favorite starch and vegetable. I prefer roasted potatoes that I throw in the oven with the bird for the last 30 minutes and some pan sautéed zucchinis.
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