I love roast chicken - it's delicious, and I like its elegant symmetry: 2 breasts, 2 wings, 2 legs, 2 thighs. I also like how frugal it is: it's roughly a dollar a pound, and a three pound chicken will feed 2 parents and 2 kids (more symmetry!). A slightly bigger one will leave you with more leftover options.
But it's easy to ruin roast chicken. You have the same challenges, though on a smaller scale, that you have with a turkey: relatively lean meat that dries out when overcooked yet needs to be cooked thoroughly to avoid food poisoning. Also, it's a sphere with a hollow core, basically - with legs at one end that need to be cooked longer than the breast at the other. So there are challenges.
Roast chicken may never be truly easy, but this is the easiest way I know to make it. And two out of three Carnes men agree that it makes a wonderful meal!
This post is going to be a long one, so settle in.
To make roast chicken, you need a few tools:
1. kitchen shears (scissors)
2. 9X13 pan or small roasting pan
3. cookie cooling rack or rack for roasting pan
5. meat thermometer (highly recommended, but not critical)
And some ingredients:
whole chicken (3-4 lbs.)
red potatoes or baking potatoes
1. First, you are going to butterfly the chicken. Basically, you are going to cut out the backbone so you can flatten it and it will cook evenly. Take the chicken out of the package and rinse it. Dry it thorough with paper towels so it doesn't steam in the oven. Put it on a cutting board, back side up - you'll see a little heart-shaped nugget of fat at the bottom. Save the neck if included but not the gizzard and heart.
2. Using your kitchen shears, cut up along the backbone on both sides. You'll make cuts about 1 1/2 inches apart. It's a bit tough cutting through the bone, but just move a bit further out if you have too much resistance. Turn it over so it's breast-side up. Push down on the breast or use a meat mallet to sort of even out the thickness of the butterflied chicken. Cut the backbone into 2 inch pieces, and set aside with the neck. (In a future post, I'll explain how to use these pieces to make a pan sauce/gravy since you won't have pan drippings.)
3. Take one tablespoon of kosher salt, and sprinkle it all over the chicken - front and back. If you are sensitive to salt, try 2 teaspoons. (Diamond salt is saltier than Morton's. The reason you need a lot of salt is for flavor and tenderness. I'll explain more when I write about brining in a future post.)
4. Cut up carrots, potatoes, and onions into chunks. Spray roasting pan with cooking spray, and add vegetables - cut up enough to fit in one layer. (If you have lots of layers, the veggies will steam, not roast. The carrots get saltier than the potatoes. Our theory is that their higher water content allows them to absorb more salt. Anyway, you can pepper the vegetables, but don't salt them.)
5. Put the rack on top of the pan. Put the chicken, skin side down, on the rack. Roast at 500 degrees for 10 minutes. Take chicken out of oven and turn over with tongs, skin side up. Put it back in the oven for 20-40 more minutes, depending on how big the chicken is. When it's done, the chicken skin will be brown and blistery. The breast should register 160 degrees, and the legs should register 165 (it's more important to check the legs).
6. Take the chicken off the rack and put it on a cutting board to rest for five minutes - cover it with foil to keep the heat in. Roast the vegetables for 10 minutes until they are browned.
7. There are lots of great instructions for carving the chicken that you can find online. Here's how I do it. I only hope my pictures don't scare you away!First, pull the leg and thigh away from the body by gently pulling on the leg. Cut through the skin. Repeat on other side.
Separate leg from thigh by cutting where you see my knife. If you meet too much resistance, you aren't in the right place. Move the knife slightly until you can cut through quite easily.
Make vertical cuts on either side of the breast bone. Cut around and underneath the breast to remove. You can cut it in half if you have a larger chicken or you want more choices for each person.
As I mentioned earlier, you have no pan drippings, so you can't automatically make gravy for this meal. The pan drippings are making your vegetables wonderful, though! The chicken will be moist and flavorful enough that you don't have to have a sauce. But if you feel the need, you can always do what Thomas Keller, chef of the famous French Laundry does: slather your chicken with butter. (Whaaat? and also, yum!)