A Toast to Roast Chicken

A roasted chicken does have the ability to strike fear in the hearts of some home cooks (or so I hear), perhaps conjuring up bad memories of a Thanksgiving turkey gone wrong. Roasting a whole chicken must be too time consuming for a typical week-night dinner. Or is it??? I’m here to tell you that it honestly isn’t! With a small amount of preparation, it is possible to whip up a chicken worthy of praise. Roasted chicken, with it’s crispy, golden skin, does look impressive, not to mention taste delicious. If you simply do not have the time to prepare a chicken during the week, consider preparing one during the weekend, as you can use the left-overs to make a delicious stock to add to other recipes you may be whipping up during the rest of the week.

You certainly get the most chicken for your money when purchasing a whole bird. Next time you are at the store, check out the price per pound on those boneless, skinless chicken breasts that are so popular today. You may be shocked to find that the price could be triple the amount per pound as a whole chicken. Plus, if you think about it, the chicken is less processed, meaning less handling by factory workers (or preferably, farm hands on a local farm!), chopping and de-skining your cuts of meat. Typically a whole chicken can feed four adults nicely, so it makes a lovely entertaining dish, as well.

Feel free to use whatever vegetables you prefer as an accompaniment. However, I tend to use a variety of potatoes that are available at the farmer’s market on a given week, along with some chopped carrots, and some whole garlic cloves. If you happen to have a half-eaten bag of baby carrots lingering in your fridge from the last playdate you hosted, feel free to toss them in instead. I have used baby carrots when roasting chicken on numerous occasions, with fantastic results.

I have used numerous spice combinations, when dry-rubbing my chicken pre-roasting, to much success. It ulitmately depends on your tastebuds and perhaps the season you are roasting your chicken. In the fall, I tend to use a bit more nutmeg and allspice, and in the summer, I use more citrus, such as orange and lemon zest. Happy roasting!!

1  3-4lb. whole chicken, preferably organic, giblets/neck removed, rinsed, patted dry*
2 Tbl. butter, cut into small chunks
6 cloves garlic, left whole, unpeeled
1/2 lemon
1 Tbl. ground cumin
2 Tbl. salt
1 1/2 Tbl. freshly ground pepper
1 tsp. dijon mustard
small handful of fresh herbs (thyme, parsley, dill, rosemary)
olive oil for rubbing
12″ kitchen twine for tying the chicken’s legs together

For the Vegetables:
10 small (or 4-5 large) potatoes, such as blue, red, yukon, etc.
15 baby carrots, whole (or 3 large carrots, halved, and chopped into 2″pieces)
6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
salt, pepper to taste
1/3 c. olive oil
fresh or dried herbs, such as oregano and rosemary, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350° F. After rinsing the chicken with water, inside and out, place onto some paper towels and thoroughly pat dry. You want the skin to be as dry as possible, since you will be dry rubbing the spice marinade onto the chicken. Place into a large roasting pan.  Sprinkle the cumin, salt, pepper, and whatever other spices you desire, onto and inside the chicken. Rub the spices into the skin slightly. Place the lemon, garlic cloves, and fresh herbs inside the cavity of the chicken.

Cut the butter into 1/2″ cubes. You will now slide your finger under the skin of the chicken on top of the breast, near the legs. You want to open a small hole where you will slide the pieces of butter between the skin and the meat. Once under the skin, you can move the pieces of butter where you like by pushing it around from the outside of the skin. The breast meat has a tendency to dry out more quickly than the dark cuts of meat, and the butter provides extra moisture and a fantastic element of taste. (I mean, what doesn’t taste better with butter???)

Once the butter is in place, cross the chicken’s legs together. Take the kitchen twine, which can be found in just about any grocery store or butcher’s shop, and wrap it around one of the legs one time. Then, using the opposite end of the twine, start wrapping both legs together in opposition to the other end of twine, two or three times. You will then want to either knot the strings or tie them in a bow.

Pour some olive oil over the chicken, making to sure to coat the entire bird. Measure about 1 3/4 water into a liquid measuring cup. Whisk in the mustard, then gently pour into the pan. Place in the oven, and allow to roast for about 1 hour, basting every 20 minutes with a basting brush. Keep checking to see if there is enough water in the bottom of the pan each time you baste the chicken. You want the pan to have about 1/2″ depth of water at all times.

Once the bird is in the oven, begin chopping up all your veggies. Try to keep everything uniform in size, or the cooking time will vary too much between the pieces. Place all the vegetables into a large bowl. Season with salt, pepper, and some chopped fresh herbs, or a combination of dried herbs. Pour about 1/3 c. of olive oil into the bowl. Give everything a few good stirs and set aside.

After about 1 hour, remove the chicken from the oven. Arrange the vegetables around the chicken, and give the chicken another good baste. Gently pour a little water in the roasting pan if necessary. Place back in the oven, and allow to continue cooking for another 45 minutes to 1 hour. Occasionally stir the vegetables around while they are cooking, so as not to stick to the pan. When the potatoes and carrots are fork tender, and the chicken has reached an internal temperature of about 180° F (insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh to take this reading), your “bird is cooked!” Allow to cool slightly and serve. If your day is anything like mine, however, you might not be able to roast a chicken after all the kids have been picked up, after-school activites finished, and the homework completed. Instead, roast the chicken and vegetables during the afternoon. Once the oven has been turned off, store your dish inside, which will keep it slightly warm so everyone will have a delicious meal at their fingertips when the key opens the front door. A toast to you…..roast chicken!

* If you do choose to use a standard, non-organic chicken, which tends to be much larger in weight, make sure to adjust the cooking time. An organic, 3-4 pound chicken will cook in about 1 3/4-2 hours, however, if your chicken weighs more, adjust the cooking time accordingly.

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