Roasted chicken. Outside of baking bread there’s almost nothing else you can do in the kitchen that will have your house smelling so good and you eating so well – all in just about an hour (look to Michael Ruhlman for suggestions for what to do with that hour). There’s a good reason Julia Child thought of chicken-roasting as an apt test for any cook: getting it right isn’t terribly challenging, but it does engage each of the senses.
One thing to pay attention to is the beginning product. The difference between factory and farm-raised isn’t as pronounced in chicken as it is in pork – at least to me – but it does make a difference. Country Neighbors raises the best chicken I’ve had in the area. They’re still tender but more robustly chicken-y than grocery store birds; they make much better stock. I’ve found them at The Root Cellar and Hy-Vee, but the most important thing is just to get roasting.
Brining will help keep a roasting chicken moist, but the real benefit is found in seasoning the meat inside and out. You can get all fancy Thomas Keller-style, but I’ll be honest – half the time I just stir a half-cup of kosher salt into a gallon of cold water and run with it. Seems to work okay.
1 2.5 – 3 lb. chicken, brined overnight
1 T kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
1 lemon, quartered
1 small onion, quartered
Several sprigs of herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage, whatever you have on hand)
6 medium potatoes
Preheat oven to 425-450*. Rinse and thoroughly dry chicken inside and out. Salt and pepper, also inside and out. Place herbs and however much lemon and onion will fit inside the cavity. Truss as best you can, but don’t stress – it doesn’t need to be air-tight. Slice potatoes into 1/2 inch slices and place in roasting pan. Set roasting rack in pan and place chicken on rack breast-side down. Roast for 30 minutes, then turn to one side for 15 and turn to the other for another 15. Your chicken is nearly done and the potatoes are crisping in delicious, salted chicken fat. Your house smells amazing. Rotate chicken breast-side up, stick a thermometer in the thick part of the leg beside the body and roast until meat temperature reaches 165-170. Remove chicken to side plate to cool for at least ten minutes (keep potatoes warm), then carve and serve with potatoes and a simple salad.
* – Temperatures and times vary according to the oven, the size of the chicken and how many times your kids beg you to open the oven door. This is where sense, and senses come into play. Watch, listen and smell. Adjust accordingly.