Roasting a whole chicken is one of life’s great pleasures that seems to slipping into a lost art as grocers scurry to keep roasted/rotisserie chickens under their warmers for quick grabs as parents struggle to figure out something healthy and “semi homemade” to feed their children. Don’t get me wrong, I have bought my share of roasted birds from Costco. It’s hard not to as that price of under $6 for a whole, perfectly cooked chicken, is very hard to pass up.
The problem with buying birds like that though, and worse, getting use to it, is we have forgotten the aroma that fills a home on a Sunday afternoon while a chicken is being roasted in your oven. There is almost nothing like it. Rich, meaty, and salty goodness slowly filling the kitchen, dining room, and hallways of a home lure children (mine anyway) into the kitchen with questions like “Dad, when is dinner ready” or “Dad, what’s that smell?” or some sort of mashup “I’m hungry and it smells soooo good in here!”
I have roasted several chickens over the past 7 years and honestly, have had mixed results. One of the worst experiences I had was being asked to cook for a church group of young adults where I cooked at least 3 roaster chickens in an old Wolf oven in the kitchen of an old elementary school. It looked great and smelled great, but apparently the oven was just a little too old and tempermental as it cooked extremely well on the outside (crispy, golden brown skin) and not so well on the inside (bloody pink).
I have tried Jamie Oliver’s, Mario Batali’s, Ted Allen’s and a host of others, all with pretty good results, but frankly, was still suffering from a lack of confidence. You see, I LOVE roasted chicken for all of the reasons listed above but also, because I pride myself in performance, LOVE the way it displays on a table. It is flat out impressive. I over complicated it. I was out to try and find the perfect way to do it (do you baste it in butter? how much salt? what goes in the cavity? v-neck roasting pan?) and it became almost paralyzing, so much in fact, that I stopped roasting birds for awhile and only bought whole chickens to boil for st0ck.
Michael Ruhlman has been one of my man crushes lately (they seem to change often) and I had enjoyed reading a few of his books on chef’s, kitchens, and now some of his cook books. I own The Book of Schmaltz: Love Song to a Forgotten Fat(an e-book focused exclusively on the traditionally-Jewish custom of rendering chicken fat), Twenty, and Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, and have checked out Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing from the library recently to take another step in my home-cured meat odyssey. Like a lot of food authors I read, when I am working through one of their books, I usually get up to date on their blog as well. In his recent cookbook Ruhlman’s Twenty: 20 Techniques 100 Recipes A Cook’s Manifesto, as well as his blog, Ruhlman shares a lot about roasting chickens and does a great job communicating the romance and simplicity of it. In fact, the YouTube video clip (see below) on “How To Truss a Chicken” is the one I have watched over and over so I can get my bird uniform and looking pretty. But, the most important thing I picked up from him was how truly simple and pleasurable it can be to have perfectly cooked, unattended, golden brown roasted chicken on a Sunday afternoon.
If you liked this, you may also like:
Ruhlman’s Slate article on Roasted Chicken and Sex
My piece on perfect chicken stock