Tuesday, March 6, 2007

on roast chicken


i've previously written that i'm a master at roast chicken. and this is true; i can do it with my eyes closed (okay, maybe not; after all, i don't want to burn myself). i think every good cook has their own "master" recipe for roasting a chicken, and every good cook thinks that their way is the best way. for the boy and i, roast chicken is one of our comfort foods, one that we always fall back on when we've had a bad day and need some good-tasting therapy. it's also the one meal i dont have to look up the recipe for (and me being bad with math and numbers, this is a good thing), because i've made it so often. it's just our good ol' standby meal. i don't consider it to be super fancy foodage at all.

a couple of people i've made this for have gushed about my chicken. one time when we lived in baltimore, i made it for an old friend who was passing through on her way from NYC to atlanta. another time (2 weeks before our wedding) my mom flew into Dulles airport and drove through rush hour traffic up to Baltimore, and i greeted her with this meal. i made it because it was easy, simple, and good. both recipients were shocked. "how nice!", exclaimed my friend, "but you didn't have to go out of your way to make me a super fancy gourmet meal". this kind of puzzled me, that she would consider a whole roast chicken as being gourmet. my mom said kind of the same thing. she even got on the phone later to my sister and boasted about the wonderful meal i made her (which made my sister jealous - but that's another story). this is the type of thing you'd make a tired traveler, or someone who's had a stressful day, or someone who just spent 2 hours battling traffic. it's so homey and buttery and delicious that it's one of those things that can be considered borderline comfort food/gourmet food, for the weary.

1. if you have a V-rack, use it. you dont necessarily need one, and i've cooked many a chicken without; you can also take a lot of tin foil, ball it up, and use it to prop up the chicken when it's on its side. i like using the V-rack because the sides of the chicken get really well cooked, and you get more crispy skin to munch on.

2. preheat oven to 375 F and lightly grease your V-rack, if using.

3. take some room-temperature butter (depends on how much you want to use, around 5 tablespoons might be plenty), put it in a bowl and smoosh it around with some herbs of your choice. i use plenty of chopped fresh thyme and some herbes de provence that my mom brought me back from france (these can be really expensive if store-bought in the US, so if you don't have any, you can totally make your own, my dad does). i also put in a healthy dose of salt and pepper. smoosh this all around really well. take a good blob of it and smoosh it underneath the skin of one of the breasts, being careful not to rip through the skin. if you do, it's all good! no worries! it ain't the end of the world! just go about your business. take another good blob of it and do the same to the other breast. if there is any left, i shove it into the chicken cavity (make sure you take out the baggie of innards and cook those up for your dog; mrs p loves that) along with a halved lemon, sprigs of thyme, and sometimes a hunk of onion. take a tablespoon or two of canola/vegetable/or peanut oil and spread it all around the outside of the chicken. liberally salt it all over; i also pepper it a bit but not too much as pepper can burn.

4. oil your V-rack and put the chicken down on one side. add some water to the bottom of the pan (this will prevent the pan from smoking like hell once the chicken fat starts dripping into it). if you arent using a V-rack, dont add any water to the bottom of the pan. put the pan in the oven for 20 minutes. take it out, and with a whole separate set of pot holders (you don't want cross-contamination now, do you?), flip the bird over to its other side and roast that again for another 20 minutes. take it out again and flip the chicken right side up for about 30 to 35 minutes, or somewhere along the lines of 160 F for the breast temperature. to be honest, i've never taken the temperature at this point. i just guesstimate it, and i'm right every time.

5. haul the chicken out of the oven and remove it from the V-rack onto a cutting board and let sit for about 15 minutes. at this point, you, your asbestos hands, and a sharp knife can tackle the dismemberment.

6. if you're not using a V-rack, you can use a regular rack or even set the chicken on a bed of cut up root vegetables seasoned with salt, pepper, and some olive oil. ummm yummmmm.

we usually serve this with rice pilaf and canned corn.

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