Herb Roasted Chicken

August 29, 2010


Basics, Dinner, Fall, Local Eating, Recipes, Seasons, Spring, Summer, Winter

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We’ve taken to roasting a chicken on Sundays. It may not seem like the most practical thing to heat up a tiny kitchen when external temperatures exceed 100 degrees on most days, but there’s nothing like the taste of freshly roasted chicken—especially when it gets an encore as tarragon chicken salad or as the base for a stock.

For most of my life, I’ve not been a chicken roaster. I’m aware that this topic might inspire various moans and groans and “Is she actually talking about roasting a chicken?” responses. But I think that people who feel that way may have forgotten—or never suffered from weekly-roast-chicken-deprivation—how hard it is to imagine that a grayish, pimpled, heavy lump of a cold carcass could create something as spectacularly juicy and golden as a properly roasted chicken. If you’ve ever been dissuaded by the appearance of a raw bird, well, this post’s for you.

Before I get into it, I must also say this: the origins of your bird are highly important. I recently wrote about the treatment of chickens in factory farms, and cannot emphasize enough how critical it is to procure your poultry from a reputable, neighborly type. If you can find a local farmer whose chickens you can visit—which is easier than you probably think—then please do that. You don’t even have to visit: just knowing that somebody in your area has his own chicken or hen operation feels mighty good.

Typically, Christopher and I fetch our chicken at the Saturday morning market. If the farmer is out of fresh birds, we buy one frozen. We also pick up our weekly eggs and bring Mr. Hatterman his egg box back to fill again. I get a secret (no longer) thrill of returning last week’s egg carton. Maybe he’s just playing along, but he always acts surprised and delighted. Anyway…if the bird was frozen, it sits in the refrigerator until late Sunday afternoon. Either way, we take her out at about 4 in the afternoon so she can come to room temperature before the 5:30 roast.

For the first few chicken-roasting weeks, I spent about 15 minutes over the sink, seriously contemplating a whole-hearted return to vegetarianism. Let me assure you—if you’ve also been deterred by this part of the process—that cleaning the bird gets easier. I no longer close my eyes and hold my breath while searching in a dark, slick chicken cavity for packets of innards and the loose giblet or two. At first, I squealed and tried to make haste during the dismemberment process. Now, I remain fully present, although I won’t lie and say I let it take any longer than it has to. I believe it is total cowardice to eat meat and not think about the meaning of the animal’s life, or to participate, even in some small way, in what it takes to get an animal ready for consumption. I don’t mean to belabor death here, but if you seriously can’t imagine cleaning a bird, then you should rethink your comfort with eating it.

I am a vegetarian most days of the week, but Sunday chickens are a habit worth having. I can’t tell which comes first, the smell or the sound…the popping chicken skin may be just as pleasing to hear as it is to sniff. For a full hour or so more, the little kitchen of ours fills up with the most heavenly scent on earth. I spend every minute before 7 inside, fully enjoying the extraordinary transformation the house makes into a home. Michael Pollan commented on how meat brings people together in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Early man, he claims, didn’t throw ragers over the discovery of a yam patch. Meat is a celebratory thing: its smell and taste are hardwired in our evolution as symbols of communality, security and celebration. There really is something to it the appetite that builds inside of me during those Sunday evenings has never been paralleled by the roasting of a vegetable or the searing of seitan. As I pull the bird from the oven, all I can think of is the parallel between cooking and alchemy: how the whitish grey skin is transformed into a taught, gold, herb-infused crown, just waiting to be sliced and divided among those who have waited all week.

I am aware that there are many basic methods of roasting a chicken, but mine works for me. No matter what, don’t lose confidence in the simplicity of it: olive oil or butter; salt; pepper are really all it takes. If you want to up the ante (and spend an extra 5 minutes prepping) some herbs and aromatics go a very long way. Serving this with a side of roasted potatoes and a simple green salad is as good as dinner gets.

Herb Roasted Chicken

1 chicken- approximately 5-6 pounds

1 lemon, sliced in half

2 garlic cloves

3 sprigs rosemary

3 sprigs thyme

2 tablespoons dried herbs (I like herbes de provence)

2 tablespoons browned butter or olive oil

salt and pepper


Preheat oven to 425.

Remove lingering giblets from the chicken.

Wash thoroughly, inside and out.

Dry completely with paper towels, inside and out (this is critical if you want a brown, crisp chicken, because water inside the skin or body will cause it to steam and the skin to separate and soften).

Stuff with fresh herbs and lemon halves.

Cut two 1” slits just about the thighs and insert garlic clove in each.

Coat chicken with brown butter or olive oil.

Season with herbs and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

Roast chicken for 1 ½ hours then test for doneness by slicing between the leg and thigh: if the juice is clear, the chicken is ready.

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