Saturday, June 19, 2010

Roast Chicken

Photo Credit: Melissa Binder

You may ask, "What's 'In Season' about chicken?"  Well, believe it or not, summer is the best time to eat fresh, pasture-raised chicken because the chickens are out and about the fields these days, eating grass and all kinds of tasty bugs.  We benefit from their diet!  (If you're interested in more details about the benefits of eating grass-fed meat, check out this link.)  I'm fortunate enough to have a farm just three miles away that sells this type of chicken.  I've arranged to purchase a fresh whole broiler chicken or two every three weeks as they "harvest" them, then plan to buy a few extra at the end of the season to stash in the freezer.  I have to admit, I did feel a bit like a chicken-killer - a freshly-dressed chicken straight from the farm looks and feels a bit too alive for me compared to buying them wrapped in plastic from a sterile grocery store that is nowhere in sight of their happy home .... (And I even grew up on a farm and have plenty of experience plucking chickens!)  I had never roasted a chicken before, but have been practicing and think I've gotten the method down now (except for the part about setting off the smoke alarm....).  I usually eat the legs/thighs right away, then freeze the breasts for another time; the breasts are so moist and tender prepared this way!  I've also been freezing the leftover carcasses for making a big pot of chicken stock at a later date.

Source: adapted from  The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers

one small chicken, 2-3/4 to 3-1/2 pounds
4 tender sprigs of fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage, about 1/2" long
2-3 t. sea salt (3/4 t. per pound of chicken)
1 t. freshly ground black pepper

One to three days prior to cooking (at least two days for 3+ pounds chickens):
Rinse chicken and pat dry thoroughly.  Snip skin and shove an herb sprig under each breast and thigh.  Season chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper.  Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders.  Cover loosely and refrigerate. 

To roast chicken:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Preheat an oven-proof 10" skillet over medium heat.  Wipe chicken dry and set it breast side up in pan.  (It should sizzle).
Place in center of oven and watch for it to start browning within 20 min.  If it doesn't, raise the temperature progressively until it does.  The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce the temperature by 25 degrees.  After about 30 min., turn bird over.  Roast for another 10-20 min., depending on size, then flip back over to re crisp the breast skin, another 5-10 min.  Total oven time will be 45 min. to an hour.
Remove chicken from oven.  Lift chicken from skillet and set on a plate; place in a warm spot to rest.  (The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools.)
Cut chicken into pieces and serve!

Note:  Salting the bird at least 24 hours in advance is the secret - it improves flavor, keeps it moist, and makes it tender. 

Update - 8/20/10
Rosemary Roast Chicken
I roasted 4 chickens last night for my "August in Tuscany" dinner.  I followed the above directions, but instead of tucking an herb sprig under the skin, I simply put 1/4 c. chopped rosemary and 1 small onion, quartered inside the cavity of each chicken just before roasting - even easier and tastier!

Another update - 10/14/12
I typically eat the wings, legs and thighs, then remove the white breast meat from the carcass and chop and freeze it for later use in recipes calling for chopped, cooked chicken.  But more recently, I've been been shredding the breast meat, then pouring the clear drippings over it to keep it moist before freezing it.  The drippings give it great flavor, and I like the texture of the shredded chicken vs. chopped.

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