Friday, November 16, 2007

Roasting a Chicken

That's roast chicken, numbnuts! And if you can’t properly roast a damn chicken then you are one helpless, hopeless, sorry-ass bivalve in an apron. Take that apron off, wrap it around your neck, and hang yourself. You do not deserve to wear the proud garment of generations of hardworking, dedicated cooks. Turn in those clogs, too. (Anthony Bourdain, Les Halles Cookbook)
Bourdain's recipe for roasting a chicken is easy and turns out beautifully, and I'm not going to quote it here because you already have the cookbook. It's a vast improvement over Julia Child's (presumably classically French) recipe, which involves basting every 8 to 10 minutes and turning the hot sizzling bird a total of five times throughout the cooking process. And there's a really obsessive recipe in one of James Beard's books that I can't find now; I used it the first time I roasted a chicken, and I remember it called for a stick and half of butter. The chicken wasn't so much roasted as sponge-fried. Of course it was delicious.

But when I'm roasting a chicken nowadays, especially if I've had a long day at work and I'm tired and hungry and cooking just for myself, my go-to recipe is from Marcella Hazan. It's the essence of simplicity, and it's dependably fantastic.

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Rinse a 4-lb. chicken in cold water inside and out. Pat it dry with a paper towel and prop it up so it can drain while the oven is heating.

(By the way, I don't have to tell you to get a decent chicken, do I? One that wasn't debeaked so that when it went insane from being crammed into a tiny cage with five or six other chickens it wouldn't peck them to death? One that was fed good honest grain that wasn't "fortified" with antibiotics and fat from other chickens? One that was able to walk around and scratch and flap its wings and socialize and generally live a happy chickenlike life? I don't have to tell you that, right? Good.)

Generously salt and pepper your chicken inside and out. Take two small lemons and pierce them all over with a skewer or a fork. Stick those inside your chicken. Truss the chicken if you like; I don't bother unless it's a special occasion. Set the bird breast side down in a roasting pan and roast it for half an hour. You don't need to baste, so pour yourself a glass of wine and settle in with a good book till the timer goes off. Turn the chicken over (I've got a huge pair of grill tongs I use for this) and roast for another half an hour. Turn the oven up to 400 degrees and roast for another 20 minutes. Total cooking time should be 20-25 minutes per pound.

Let the bird sit for about 15 minutes before carving. That should give you enough time to make whatever simple side dish you're in the mood for. When you carve the bird, copious juices will flow; that's all the sauce you need. Wonderful.


T said...

YEAH! Ass chicken!!!! Mmmmm!

An Briosca Mor said...

"One that was able to walk around and scratch and flap its wings and socialize and generally live a happy chickenlike life"

One thing I learned from reading The Omnivore's Dilemma is that the whole concept of "free range chicken" has a lot of myth built into it. For instance, if there is a fenced-in outdoor area the size of an average apartment balcony that is accessible to the chickens who inhabit a building the size of an airport hanger, then technically those chickens can be called "free range", even though 99.9% of them may never wander outside into their little area. Still, I guess this is better than the whole de-beaking kind of existence. And there are some places that do free-range right, like Polyface Farm where Lori gets her meat. That operation is profiled extensively in the book. I really need to think about getting into that...

Rob said...

Furthermore, in the universe of Big Organic, poultry operations keep the birds indoors for their first few weeks of life, so they're conditioned to staying inside once the door is opened. But yeah, I'll take one of those birds over an iundustrial factory-farmed chicken any day.

Omnivore's Dilemma is a great book. It's definitely spurred me to get on Polyface's list.