Real Food 101: Roasting a Whole Chicken
Roasting a whole chicken is a deliciously simple way to add rich flavor to your meal. I like to roast one on Sundays and prep the chicken for those busy week night dinners when I need something quick and easy. If I am feeling ambitious, I will also use the bones to make a batch of chicken bone broth. I realize that it takes a little more time to prepare a whole chicken myself but in the end, it is definitely worth it. Here is a quick guide to help you through the process, beginning to end.
When you go to purchase your whole chicken, you should consider how the chicken was raised. Each decision we make regarding the food we eat has an impact on everything around us. (Visit my post on the food politics involved with poultry purchases for more information on this topic.) I prefer and encourage the purchase of pasture-raised chicken because it was raised the way nature intended. This means that the chicken was provided an open space to forage for sprouts, grasses, worms and insects, which will enrich the flavor of the meat. The best way to know how your chicken was raised is to buy it directly from a small farm within your community.
Before you Start
You will need an oven. If you do not have this, I do not think roasting a chicken is for you. You will also need a pan. You can use a roasting rack, a rimmed sheet pan or a cast iron skillet. Kitchen shears and a thermometer are also helpful but not necessary. If it is an option, leave the whole chicken to rest in the refrigerator for at least one hour. This makes the skin noticeably crispier.
Brining enhances and elevates the flavor of the chicken and earns extra bragging points for you. If you decide to brine your chicken, you have two different brining options, a dry brine (or a dry rub) or a wet brine. A dry brine is a combination of salts and spices that are used to season the chicken. It results in a crispier skin. If you choose a dry brine, it is best to season your chicken at least an hour prior and let it rest in the refrigerator. A general guide for a great dry brine is salt, pepper, garlic, grated lemon, herbs and spices. Make sure to thoroughly apply the dry brine to the entire exterior and cavity of the chicken. A wet brine is exactly what it sounds like, wet. A wet brine generally consists of a basic salt and seasoning mixture you can submerge your whole chicken in. Typically, the salt and/or sugar are dissolved into hot water and then allowed to cool before submerging the chicken. Other ingredients you could consider adding would be vinegar, soy sauce, olive oil, and seasoning herbs. Make sure to pat the skin of the bird after brining for crispier skin. Allow the bird to rest in the refrigerator for at least two hours before roasting to let the skin dry out.
Filling the Cavity
Another way to add flavor to the chicken is to fill the inner cavity with ingredients that will enhance its flavor during the roasting process. Consider adding fresh herb sprigs, squeezed out lemons, quartered onions, or peeled garlic cloves.
Glazing darkens the color of the skin and can add an intense flavor to the chicken. One key element in any glaze is sugar. A typical glaze involves adding sugar to other ingredients to balance the sweetness. Consider combining honey with lemon and soy sauce or brown sugar with mustard and lime juice. Add the glaze to the whole chicken during the last 10 to 20 minutes of cooking and make sure to watch it carefully so it does not burn. If the glaze does being to burn, cover the bird with foil and allow it to finish cooking.
There are a handful of different ways to prepare a chicken before it is placed in the oven. These techniques are based on personal preference so I would suggest trying the ones listed below and see which works best for you.
Leave the bird as-is and season with some salt and pepper. Quick, easy and relatively painless.
Take a pair of kitchen shears or a very sharp knife and cut along one side of the chicken's backbone. Open up the bird and lie it flat. Cut along the other side of the back bone to remove it entirely. Cook the chicken breast side up.
Use a sharp knife and cut the skin where the legs connect to the body of the chicken on each thigh. Then splay the thighs open until you feel the joints separate. Spread out the thighs so they lay flat in the pan or skillet.
Place the chicken breast up. Take a long piece of chicken twine and slide the twine under the bird. Pull the twine up on both sides, thread the twine around both legs and pull tight. Flip the bird over, pulling the twine up under each of the bird's wings. Cross the twine and pull. Circle the twine once underneath the neck of the chicken and pull it tight. The wings should be sticking out at an angle. Tie a secure knot and cut off any extra twine. Finally, tuck in the wings.
Once the chicken is prepared, seasoned and on the pan, place in the oven. If you are going for a more tender, fall-off-the-bone chicken experience, plan to roast the chicken for about 1 and a 1/2 to 2 hours at 300-350 degrees. Otherwise, a whole chicken should take about 1 to 1 and a 1/2 hours at 400-425 degrees. Once the internal temperature of the chicken has reached 165 degrees and the juices run clear, the bird can be removed from the oven. Any drippings collected in the pan can be basted over the chicken to keep the skin from drying out. Allow the chicken to rest at least 10 minutes before carving to give time for the juices to settle. Keep the frame of the chicken to make chicken stock or bone broth.
There are some many options for roasting a whole chicken that range from time-consuming to simple and quick. No matter what you decide, a whole roasted chicken is a great way to celebrate real food.