Years ago, way back before every supermarket and corner gas station began selling rotisserie chicken, if you were in the mood for a roasted chicken you either went to a good restaurant or you made one yourself. Now I have had some mighty tasty roasted chickens from a few markets, and buying one there means you can have it on-demand and without any of the clean up. I love those store-bought birds; they are handy when you need cooked chicken for pot pie, tetrazzini and other recipes. Just the same, we understand that cooking is about more than just convenience, it’s about creating something special.
I will be leaving on a trip to Paris in about a week. A few weeks ago, we made a cheese soufflé in honor of this journey, and now that it is right around the corner, I wanted to do something simple, but with a nod to France. Roast chicken appears in Julia Child’s classic, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961), and in a number of other French cookbooks. While this recipe differs from Mrs. Child’s, it renders a moist, succulent chicken rich with the subtleties of fresh herbs and aromatics.
When this chicken comes out of the oven, it’s important to let it rest. Tent it with foil and give it 15 to 20 minutes of alone time. This will give time for all the delicious juices to redistribute into the meat so it stays moist. You will have some good pan drippings, too. If you want to make a nice sauce, you can add a little flour to the drippings, then add broth, white wine or both and stir to thicken. This bird was moist enough on its own, so I didn’t make a pan sauce.
Carving can be a tricky. While I’ve done it many, many times, I still don’t feel as though I’ve mastered the technique. But practice makes perfect. The wings come off easily, and I cut the chicken so the legs and thighs are together in one piece (leg quarter), but you can easily separate these two. Cutting the two sides of the breast is the trickiest part for me, but I managed to do it without it looking like a complete massacre.
We served this with butter lettuce salad, beer bread, roasted asparagus (very easy and dee-lish) which I included on the video. We also had mushroom rice – I had too much going on to make risotto – but you could cut up some redskin or Yukon Gold potatoes and let them roast under the chicken and they would be wonderful. Bon appetite!
1 whole roasting chicken (3 ½ - 4 ½ lbs)
¼ cup butter (a half stick), softened
A bunch of fresh thyme
A bunch of fresh sage (you can use dried herbs, but the fresh are so much better here)
Salt and pepper
1 medium onion sliced in half, peeled
1 medium lemon sliced in half lengthwise
Some kitchen twine
Take chicken out of refrigerator about a half hour before starting. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove neck and giblets from chicken (save if you like for gravy making) and rinse under cold water. Using paper towels or a clean kitchen towel, pat chicken dry all around and on the inside. Put a good teaspoon or two of salt and a teaspoon of pepper on the inside of the bird. Reserve a few sprigs of sage and time, and then put the rest inside the bird, followed by the onion and the lemon.
Take your reserved herbs and roughly chop the sage. Remove the small thyme leaves from the stem by running it between your forefinger and thumb. Using a fork, mix the herbs into the butter. Gently run your finger under the skin covering the breast (be careful because the skin tears easily). This will create a “pocket” between the skin and the meat. Gently rub have of the butter/herb mixture into this pocket, then use the rest of the butter/herb mixture on the outside of the skin all over the rest of the bird. Then put a generous amount of salt and pepper over the buttered skin.
Now you need to truss the chicken – that is to inflict a little poultry bondage on this bird! Using a piece of kitchen twine, you want to tie the ends of the legs together so they close the opening of the chicken. This helps all the meat cook more evenly. You also want to tuck the wings under the chicken so they don’t burn. Now the chicken is ready to go onto a rack inside of a roasting pan. Don’t have a rack? You can make one out of foil by forming a circular shape, or you can throw a bunch of carrots, potatoes and onions on the bottom of the pan and set the chicken on top.
Put in oven for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. If you use a meat thermometer, you want the internal temperature to be around 165 degrees, or if you make a small cut in the chicken between the leg and thigh, the juices should run clear. Remove from the oven and tent with a piece of foil and let rest for 15-20 minutes. You can make a vegetable side dish while it rests. After it has rested, transfer to a large cutting board and carve into pieces. Serve immediately.