It is the simplest of things, a roasted chicken. There are thousands of recipes out there, but the best is the one that only has few ingredients and no special techniques or tools. When a roasting chicken is in the oven, my house fills with an ethereal, homey smell, one that speaks gently of simple food well prepared and eaten with loved ones.
Roasting chicken in pieces doesn’t ever live up to roasting a whole chicken, they lack the juiciness and flavor. It’s not like that even makes sense, except the whole is grander than the parts and somehow the process of roasting the whole chicken infuses all of it with the dark and white meat flavors rather than just the one note of the pieces. Sometimes I am interested in the science of a thing, what it is chemically that happens when you do something. Not this time. I’m more than content to believe this is a kind of magic that God created into the DNA of a chicken as a gift to mankind.
A small roast chicken can give so many gifts. One is the meal it was cooked for, hot chicken with gravy made from the drippings. Is there anything better? Then there’s the chicken salad and sandwiches from the cold still juicy chicken. Lastly, there is the stock to be made from the carcass. Oh, save the carcass and make your own stock. I know it sounds so complicated but it is the easiest thing in the world. Also the tastiest.
The technique I use involves no poultry S&M. I don’t bother with the whole tying them up thing. I tuck the wings under the breast and that’s it. I drizzle some oil or melted butter over the skin, generously salt and pepper it, maybe a little granulated onion, stuff a lime or lemon in the cavity. Then I put it in a 425 degree oven for about an hour and fifteen minutes, give or take depending on weight. 75 minutes for a 4 1/2 pound chicken. I pour about two cups of water in the pan before I put it in the oven. Doing that keeps the drippings from burning up and being unusable for gravy. Drippings being unusable for gravy is a sin on a par with talking at the movies.
When the chicken is done, you know…juices run clear from the thigh when poked or the chicken registers 160 on the thermometer, remove the chicken from the pan, put it on a platter to rest and tent it with foil. This is where the magic happens. While the chicken is resting you are making the nectar of the gods.
Drain off all the juices from the pan and save them. DO NOT throw that away, it’s wonderfulness. Deglaze the pan with broth or wine depending on your preference. Like 1/2 a cup. Scrape up all that awesomeness from the bottom of the pan. Pour it off into the reserved pan drippings. Pour some of the fat from the top of the juices back into the pan, like 2 or 3 tablespoons, add 2 or 3 tablespoons of flour to the pan and make a roux. Add the drippings without the rest of the fat. Add chicken broth if you need more liquid. I like to add a little bit of heavy cream to the mix and a bit of lemon juice to brighten up the whole thing.
I prefer rice to potatoes, but mashed potatoes is the classic side.
I made this Friday night for our New Year’s Eve feast. It was simple, wonderful and exactly the way I wanted to end the year.