11 May 2011

Simple Roast Chicken

Taco night is one way to use roast chicken. I love to throw the bite-size pieces into soups, casseroles, stir fry, quesadillas or chicken salad.

My husband is constantly harping on me about cleaning out the fridge. He doesn't understand why I want to keep that quarter of a lemon with all the zest scraped clean, or the pork fat I trimmed off of the pork chops. Or the tortillas he's convinced have been in there since the Reagan administration.

Well, I may be slow, but I like to organize at my own pace. That is why it is a minor miracle I actually did some organizing around here. I'm pretty excited to share that I have started a recipe index for this site. (Update, May 18, 2011) The index seems to have been lost during a recent Blogger problem. I'm working to restore it.

Now, one with a new recipe.

Unless you cook for a houseful of vegetarians, knowing how to roast a whole chicken is right up there with spaghetti, scrambled eggs and pancakes. That is, if you cook at all, you should know how to cook these things.

I suppose the whole bird can be somewhat intimidating, what with the neck, liver and heart stuffed inside, reminding me of the random things my 2-year-old stuffs into the tightest cracks and crevasses. But all you really need to know is this: Pick up a decent meat thermometer, and you can roast the perfect chicken every time. It really is that simple.

Let the chicken rest before carving.

When I roast a chicken, I usually use one breast for that day's dinner. Then, once the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the remaining meat and tear it into bite-size pieces.

Portion the meat into freezer bags. I like to do about a cup to a cup and a half per bag. That seems to be a good amount for a soup or casserole to serve about four people. The bags thaw quickly under running water or can be placed directly into soups to thaw.

Sure you'll read plenty of recipes about stuffing the bird with herbs, lemons and the like. There's nothing wrong with any of that, but just know, all you really need is some salt, pepper, olive oil or butter. I'm a big fan of doing anything that makes the weeknight dinner easier, and that's where the roast chicken shines. I recently bought a chicken that was a little over seven pounds and yielded meat for six meals for my family. Not bad considering that conventional birds start at about a buck a pound.

I roast a bird (or two), we'll eat it for dinner that night. Then, I'll remove all the remaining meat, tear it into bite-size pieces and freeze, portioned to be the perfect addition to soups, casseroles and noodles.

So, mastering this recipe is a must-do. You can present a handsome whole bird for a big Sunday dinner or parcel out leftovers for several nights. The best part is that the same technique translates to the tiny game hens or a 20-pound holiday turkey.

Simple Roast Chicken

1 whole chicken
Handful of kosher salt
Lots of black pepper
A few tablespoons of olive oil or melted butter

Tools: meat thermometer, kitchen twine, aluminum foil, rimmed baking sheet or baking dish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside. Cut a string of kitchen twine about 15 inches long and set aside. In a small bowl combine salt and pepper (and any other seasonings you like). In another small bowl pour oil or melted butter.

Place the chicken on the baking sheet, breast-side up. Working from the leg-end of the chicken, remove the neck and giblets from the cavity. Set those aside for another use or discard. Take each wing, one at a time, and extend it, then give it a little twist inward and tuck the lowest portion of each wing behind the chicken. It sounds silly, but it should look like someone basking in the sun with arms folding up behind their head.

Next, working with you hands, rub the oil and seasonings all over the bird, including in the cavity, and, if you like, between the skin and meat. Then, using the twine, tie the legs together. Insert your meat thermometer into the thigh, making sure the tip is well-surrounded by meat and not touch a bone (which heats more quickly than muscle tissue). Then place the chicken in the oven. Roast until the thermometer reads about 155 to 157 degrees (about an hour for that seven-pound bird). Remove from the oven and tent with foil. Let rest about 15 minutes. The temperature will continue to rise and must reach 160 degrees for food safety, when the juices should also be clear.

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