The smell of a roasting chicken says “home” to me. The aroma is cozy and comforting and evocative of childhood…Sunday afternoons…cool Autumn days…dark, early evenings…cribbage games in the living room, and – a real treat – glasses of ginger ale mixed with orange juice for my sister and me.
We didn’t move – ever – when I was a child. Our house was also my father’s place of business, so we were pretty well tied to that spot. But once I was in college and then on my own, I lived in a variety of places in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, and again in Rhode Island.
And whenever I’ve moved, I’ve had to roast a chicken soon after moving in. I need to. It’s my way, I think, of blessing the place. Of saying “this is my home.” Instead of burning sage or incense, or popping open a bottle of champagne, I roast a chicken.
Over the years, I’ve developed MY roast chicken recipe. It’s not much of a recipe, either, but it works and it makes us all happy, and really, isn’t that the whole point?
First, I preheat the oven to 400 F, and place a rack in the lower third. Next, I cut up some onion (just into chunks, nothing fancy here) and maybe some mushrooms or potatoes, too, and scatter them on the bottom of our 14” saute pan. Then I rinse and dry the chicken, tuck the wings under the back, and place it in the center of the pan, on top of some of the vegetables. I take the neck, liver, heart and gizzard – the bits that come in the little pouch inside the body cavity – and place them around the chicken on top of the vegetables. And then I sprinkle a LOT of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper all over the chicken skin, and a little around the perimeter of the pan.
Then I put the whole thing in the oven and roast until done. The roasting time varies depending on the size of the chicken. Generally they’re all going to take at least an hour, and then you check on them periodically after that. When the skin is gorgeously brown and you can wiggle a drumstick easily, it’s probably done. If you slice through the skin between the thigh and the body, and the juices run clear, then it’s done. Or, if you prefer, you can stick an oven thermometer into the poor thing, either in the breast or in the thick part of the thigh, and when the temperature reaches 165 F, according to the USDA, your chicken is safe to eat. I don’t like using thermometers – my husband swears by them. Hey, we balance each other out. But the thing is, if you misplace your thermometer, then you need to be able to test for doneness the old-fashioned way, right? So I figure, the first few times, guess about the meat, and double-check with the thermometer. Eventually you’ll get a feel for how the meat should feel, how the bones should move (when the chicken is cooked, the joints will loosen and the bones will move easily, and that the juice should run clear.
Anyway, now that I’ve gone on and on long enough to roast a chicken…
That’s how I usually roast a chicken. Very simple and basic. When the chicken is cooked, I remove it from the pan and place it on a plate or platter or something to rest. If I’ve got potatoes or mushrooms in the pan, I remove them and the giblets (neck and organs) and put all those in a bowl or two and set aside, covered. I also remove the onions, but I keep them close by while I make the gravy.
I place the pan on the largest burner of my stove and sprinkle a little flour over all the golden juices and fat and quickly whisk it in. (Oh – very important – I also put an oven mitt of potholder on the handle of the pan, otherwise I’ll forget that it just came out of a 400 degree oven and burn my palm. I’ve done that. It’s not fun.) I’ve got the flame at about medium high for this. Once the flour is blended into the fat, I pour in about a half a cup of dry white wine and a cup or two of chicken stock, scrape all the browned bits that are stuck to the pan (the acid in the wine helps with this, but so does all the liquid you’ve added), whisk everything together, and let the whole mixture bubble away for a while until the it’s thickened and reduced. Sometimes I like to sprinkle a little poultry seasoning in there as well. It tastes (to me) like turkey stuffing, one of my favorite flavors on earth.) Oh, and you can add the onions back in now, too.
While the gravy is reducing, go ahead and cut up the chicken if you want to. I find it’s easier to do it at the counter rather than at the table. The counter height is easier to work with, and you can be as messy as you need to without everyone watching.
After your chicken is all cut up and arranged prettily on a platter, go finish the gravy. Taste it. Season if necessary. Now, at this point, you can either leave it the way it is, or perform one final step. Over the last several years I have been pureeing my gravy because the kids don’t like the onions and it gives me a secret thrill to include them without the kids knowing, and because the pureeing thickens the gravy some more and I don’t have to cook it down as long. So I puree, and add salt and pepper to taste, and then it’s time to eat.
So that’s the basic way I roast a chicken.
Last week I roasted a chicken the same day I made the Kale Pie. A friend of mine had given me some red potatoes she’d picked up a farm the day before, and we’d ended up talking about cooking potatoes and herbs that go well with them…rosemary! And what goes well with rosemary and potatoes? Garlic!
So here’s what I ended up doing this time around.
I sliced the potatoes, peeled some shallots and a lot of garlic, and chopped up plenty of fresh rosemary.
Then I rinsed and dried the chicken, tucked the wings under, and placed it on top of the potatoes, then generously (very generously) sprinkled kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper over everything. Especially the chicken. Yum. Crisp, salty, peppery skin. Yum.
Anyway, I popped the whole thing in the oven and went outside to pick kale, or something like that. Maybe I checked my email. Or something.
I do have to warn you – the smell of this chicken roasting in the oven, the heady perfume of rosemary and garlic – it can distract you from whatever else you’re trying to do.
About two hours and forty minutes or so later, the chicken was done. (I only know this because of the time stamp on the pictures I took.) If I remember right, the chicken weighed around 8 pounds.
When the chicken was done, I lifted it out of the pan, tilted it to let the juices from the body cavity run back into the pan, and promptly burned my arm because the juices ran down IT instead of into the pan. Silly me.
I removed the potatoes….
And made the gravy. (That’s frozen chicken stock in the picture below. It melts quickly when the pan is hot, so I don’t bother thawing it much. Just enough to get it out of the freezer bag.)
I start with the legs…
So…what food or meal says “home” to you?