A Delicious Roast Chicken for Any Night

I have a simple rule, whenever I figure out what good restaurant cooks like to make at home I follow suit.  It’s because most professional cooks like simple but deeply satisfying meals, roast chicken is one of those, it is a cook’s meal.  When I say simple I don’t mean in flavor and not necessarily in ease of cooking but more that it falls into the category of not being fussy.

And really, that is it isn’t it, that roast chicken is delicious, very satisfying and not at all fussy. Most importantly though it is easy on the cook and that is always something to grasp hold of and learn how to do.    So this is how I do it, I try not to complicate roast chicken, I use only a few dried spices  and I try to follow some simple guidelines I have come to trust over the years.

Roast Chicken Know-How:

  • Season the chicken with salt the day before you want to cook it.  Then set it into a tray with sides.  Place it uncovered into the refrigerator to dry out the skin and soak up the salt.  This drying of the skin makes for a deeply colored crispy skin.  The salt helps keep the chicken moist.
  • Trussing the chicken helps the chicken to cook evenly.  Besides we eat as much with our eyes so why not make it pretty.
  • You can cook the chicken on top of vegetables if you like letting the juices drip down onto them making for a wonderful side dish.  I do this as often as not but I never throw out the pan juices.  The pan juices make a wonderful addition to all sorts of things from pasta to…well, anything.
  • Adjust the top rack of your oven so the top of the bird is 5 to 7 inches from the top of the oven.  If it is to close to the top it will brown the skin well before the meat is cooked.
  • Avoid buying birds that are more the 4 or 5% juices added.  The birds that are 12% are brined and they are very, very salty.
  • Save any and all pan juices.  Use them in a vinaigrette to dress a salad, in pasta or in chicken salad but don’t waste them.

Cost to roast a chicken:  it depends on what kind of chicken and where you buy it but anywhere between 6 and 10 dollars for a 4 pound bird.  It should feed four with the added bonus of making soup from the carcass.

Click here for a pasta recipe using roast chicken leftovers: Chicken, Black Olives and Lemon with Spaghetti

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To Roast a Chicken:

kosher

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

3/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 chicken, about 4 pounds

1. Salt the chicken the day before you want to cook it or at least 4 hours before you want to cook it.  To do this sprinkle salt onto all sides of the bird including inside the cavity.  Place the bird onto a tray with side and put it back into the fridge.

2. Crush the fennel seeds either using the bottom of a heavy pan to grind it or with a mortar and pestle.  Combine the fennel with the rest of the spices and, again, sprinkle the spice rub all over the bird including the cavity.

I like to slice the chicken before serving. I like to slice the breast off the bone so I have a carcass for soup at the end of the night.
I like to slice the chicken before serving. I like to slice the breast off the bone so I have a carcass for soup at the end of the night.

3. Let the bird sit at room temperature for a half an hour or up to an hour.

4. Heat the oven to 400˚ F.  Place the chicken, still on a tray with sides, into the oven and let it roast for 30 minutes.  Bast the chicken with the pan juices.  Bake another 35 minutes.  Check to see  if it is done.  I can usually tell by the legs.  If the meat has pulled away from the knee bones then there is a good chance the rest of the bird is done.  Wiggle a thigh.  If it seems loose then you are probably good to go.  Tilt the bird backwards and see if the juices running out from the cavity are red.  If  all three of these test are passed letting the bird rest will finish the cooking.   Let the bird rest cover with foil for 15 minutes.

5. Carve and serve.

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The Unctuous Possibilities of Pan Juices

Spaghetti with Chicken, Black Olives, Lemon and Au JusWe all know gravy or pan sauce in large quantities might be good for our soul but it isn’t so good for our heart health. After all we are doing nothing more then adding flour or cornstarch to the fat in the bottom of a roasting or sauté pan to thicken it and adding back some stock, wine, or cream for volume. So we have deemed it less healthy which to me means it is an occasional treat and as such we reserve serving gravy for holiday feasts or occasional celebrations, and rightly so.

So why then when I look into the chicken-less roasting pan that held tonights dinner only a short time ago and I see those beautiful glistening juices that are on the edge of coagulating do I feel like I am throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Don’t get me wrong I am no health nut. In fact I have this beautiful physique that could make me the poster child for a Bittman campaign on obesity. I am sure it goes back to my waste not want not way of thinking. Nevertheless all this made me think. pan jelly

When I make my own stock I always cool it down, put it in the fridge and then the next day I lift the disc of fat off the top. I know the stock is pretty fat free, although I haven’t calculated it and I have know idea how to do so, but it has to be pretty lean and I also know it has very little salt because I didn’t add any. So looking at it in this light I started refrigerating the roasting pan and the next day I remove all the fat cap and what is left is the reduced intensely rich jelly. I use a rubber spatula and scrap all the jelly up and into a small Ball jar. I have already made a plan for its use, did so before I even roasted the pork, beef or chicken, so I know when I store it in the fridge it will be used up in a day or two. I could freeze it but I don’t like to collect things like this and my motto is use it or loose it.

The jelly is infinitely better then bouillon cubes or stock base and can be used in all sorts of ways. Sometimes I like the jelly to have lots of debris(meat bits and spices) and other times I don’t but it is easy to heat and strain, if you need too, just before you want to use it. While you don’t have too I often try to keep in mind the flavors of what I roasted with the flavors of what I am going to make with the pan juices just to make sure they coincide.

Pan juice possibilities:

  • Of course it is always good to use the pan juices in soups.  Added to the broth it can give a flat soup the kick it needs.
  • Pasta or noodles of all kinds.
  • For chicken pan juices:  Make a simple fresh lemon juice and olive oil vinaigrette with salt and lots of fresh ground pepper, take a couple big hand fulls of baby Bibb lettuces  and toss it with the dressing.  Just before serving heat the pan juices and drizzle over the salad for a “healthier” wilted salad.
  • For beef:  You could make Grits and debris.  Make a bowl of grits, pour on the warm pan juices and top with a fried egg.
  • For pork:  Ramen noodles.

Pasta with Chicken, Black Olives and Lemon

(serves 4)

12 or 16 ounce box of spaghetti noodles

extra virgin olive oil

half a can of black olives, drained

1 1/2 cups cooked chicken meat

4 cloves of garlic, trimmed, peeled and slivered

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2/3 cup chicken stock

2 to 3 tablespoons pan juices

1 tablespoon parsley, minced

parmesan cheese

1. Place a large pot filled with 4 quarts of salted water over high heat.

2. While you are waiting for the water to come to a boil place a sauté pan over medium heat.  Add a good glug or two of extra virgin olive oil.  Add the garlic and let it gently cook until it just begins to turn golden, be careful because browned garlic can be very bitter.  Add the white wine and let the alcohol burn off.  Now add the lemon juice, stock and pan juices.  Bring them to a boil and season with salt and pepper.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  Reduce the heat and let the liquid reduce.

3. When the water is at a roiling boil add the spaghetti.  Cook according to the directions on the box, I am guessing 10 minutes or so.  Once the pasta is just tender remove a cup of pasta water and reserve it, drain the pasta and immediately add it to the pan along with the chicken, olives and lemon zest.  Season the pasta with salt and fresh ground pepper.  Taste and make the necessary adjustments.  If it is to dry add a little bit of pasta water.  This is the kind of pasta that should have a broth.  Toss to combine and once the chicken is hot add the parsley toss again and serve with lots of parmesan.