Thursday, June 16, 2011

(winner, winner) roast chicken dinner

oh yessss. everyone (everyone who eats meat, anyway) loves roast chicken. if you don't, you're doing it wrong. it is elemental comfort food at its best and it couldn't be easier. all you need is a) a chicken, b) some salt and pepper, c) a hot oven and d) other seasonings, if you want.

this was the last of our csa chickens, and i will miss having them in the freezer, but they got too expensive so this will be our last chicken dinner for awhile until i find somewhere else to get the free range ones that they humanely hug and kiss to death.

you can use any kind of seasonings you want - sometimes i use za'atar and sumac, sometimes rosemary and orange, sometimes smoked paprika and cumin and lime. this time i wanted to keep it simple so i used salt, freshly ground pepper, the zest of a whole lemon, and 4 medium cloves of garlic. the garlic and lemon were given a quick treatment with a microplane and then it all just gets mixed together.

you don't want to skimp on the salt here - for a smallish chicken (~3 1/2 pounds) i used maybe 2 teaspoons. it is pretty important to use kosher or some other coarse-grained salt, as it has a much better flavor and something about the larger crystals just makes it all-around better. i don't even have any regular table salt - i use kosher for basically everything. before you start messing with the chicken, you must turn on the oven to 450 - you want it nice and hot.

i don't have one of those fancy roasting rack thingies, so i use a collapsible steamer basket. it's kind of dumb, because it slips around and makes things a little precarious, but i like that it keeps the chicken off the bottom of the pan so all the skin gets crispy. clearly, if you are in possession of a roasting rack you should use that. or you can just leave it in the pan and it will still be good. just not as good.

here is where it gets a tiny bit gross. you have to rinse the chicken off and pat it dry with paper towels. you really want to get it nice and dry, since that helps the skin get all crispified. then you have to get the lemon/garlic mixture under the skin. here is a handy video that shows you how (albeit with butter). my first thought when watching this video was wow that is a lot of butter. my second thought was ZOMG that chicken still has feet! i am so glad the csa people took the feet off for me. i acknowledge that i am eating a chicken, but i really don't need to see its little feet.

so anyway, you could put butter under there too if that's your thing. but i never do and it's always plenty moist. but basically just hold little bits of the lemon mixture and stuff them under the skin and try to get them evenly through there. then shower a bit more kosher salt and pepper over the top and stick it in the oven.

i started it at 450 and turned it down to 425 after 25 minutes or so. this sort of depends on the size of your chicken and how fast it is browning. then cook it until a meat thermometer stuck in the thigh but not touching the bone registers 165 (the USDA's recommended temperature). this one took about 45 more minutes after i turned the heat down. i have read that a good rule of thumb is about 20 minutes of cooking per pound. also, when it is done the juices should run clear. also there is something about the leg wiggling easily. if it starts getting too brown before the temperature is high enough, put a piece of tin foil over the top, just resting on it lightly.

not to be all boring and USDA about it, but really you should just suck it up and get a meat thermometer so you will know for sure. food poisoning is no fun, and eating delicious roast chicken is meant to be a joyful experience.

oh, i also roasted some little potato wedges at the same time. they were pretty thin, so they took maybe 15 minutes or a little more. just put them on a pan with some oil (or you could get crazy and pour some chicken juices on them if you are especially dexterous) and salt and pepper and flip them when one side is brown. then take them out when they are done.

when the chicken is done (165!), take it out of the pan (still on the steamer basket) and let it sit on a thing with a little tent of aluminum foil over it. then you can pour off the juices in the pan, skim the fat from them (i pour the juices into a cup and use a spoon - it doesn't have to be all perfect), put the rest back in the roasting pan, and add juice from 1/2 a lemon and scrape up any bits that are clinging to the pan. you can also add a knob of butter or some dry vermouth at this point, depending on how simple you want the enterprise to be. put it back in the oven for a couple of minutes or over a burner on low/medium, so that it thickens up a little bit.

we had this with a simple green salad, the aforementioned potatoes (both of which, plus the chicken, had the pan sauce poured over them), and this delicious brown bread i made that i will do a thing about soon. this is a great sunday kind of dinner, but it's also fairly hands-off, so it works on weeknights too. also, leftovers are amazing in sandwiches the next day.

1 whole chicken
zest from 1 lemon + juice from 1/2 a lemon
4 garlic cloves

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