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How to Roast A Chicken

I have my own methods for doing many things, and simple roasted chicken being one of my husband's favorite meals, I've got it down to a science. This is not the chicken you want for a showpiece, as my method does not create as pretty a bird as one where you roast it breast up all the way — but it does, indeed, create a chicken with a juicy breast and perfectly cooked legs and thighs. I specify air cooled for a few reasons. When I was a culinary student, we traveled on a field trip to the poultry plant, and I watched them dump a truckload of plucked and gutted chickens into what I can only describe as a big swimming pool. This was supposed to keep the chickens cold, as the workers fished them out one by one and cut and packaged the parts. Needless to say, this created a climate where one sick hen could infect the whole pool's worth with salmonella or worse. It also causes the birds to absorb water, leading to less flavorful roast chicken, and a boat-load of liquid left in the pan. These days, Mary's Chicken and others have switched to processing the birds in giant refrigerated chambers, obviating the need for the water process.

I also have a home freezer full of small containers of various sauces and gravies, all well-labeled. When I roast a chicken, I thaw the one marked "chicken gravy" and when I'm making the gravy — and make no mistake, this is gravy, not sauce — I dump it in, wash the container, and then, when we've eaten the chicken, I pour all the leftover gravy in the container and freeze it for next time. The depth of flavor you acquire over time is so far beyond a sauce made with just broth, it's amazing. The caveat here — use it all each time, make sure it boils well, and re-store in a clean container. You don't want to thaw and refreeze without boiling. I also skim the fat off, of course. That's easy to do, and much easier doing it before freezing, rather than trying to get frozen fat off the top later.

  • 1 3-4 lb. chicken,* preferably an air-cooled one
  • salt & freshly ground pepper
  • 3 stalks celery or 2 leeks or 2 carrots
  • 1 Tbs. flour
  • 1 cup chicken broth, or frozen leftover chicken gravy**

Preheat oven to 425°F. Wash the chicken thoroughly, removing debris & kidneys from cavity. Salt it heavily, and let sit for 5 minutes. Rinse again and dry. You can see from the picture, that the cavity is quite clean.

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Wash the celery or halve and wash the leeks,  trimming away the dark green parts, roots and outer layer, or peel and halve the carrots, and place whichever you choose (or have in the fridge!)  in a roasting pan, forming a “rack” for the chicken. Since I had only carrots, that's what I used. The bonus: You get to eat the caramelized and delicious carrots (or leeks or celery) as part of the meal.

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Season the chicken with salt & freshly ground pepper to taste and lay on it's breast, on top of the raft of vegetables.

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Roast for about 20-25 minutes, until the bottom is a lovely light brown; turn breast up, and roast 25 minutes. As you can see below, the bottom was nicely browned before I turned the chicken over. I have a convection oven, so it may be faster than a non-convection one, so your timing may vary.

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Test with an oven thermometer, preferably the instant-read variety, being sure that internal temperature reaches 170° when measured in the thick of the inner thigh, and the juices inside the cavity are no longer rosy pink, but run clear. Remove from the oven, and let sit in a warm place for at least 5 minutes, to let the juices settle. The temperature on your thermometer will rise at least 5 degrees. Remove the vegetable raft from the pan, to serve with the chicken.

While the chicken is resting, spoon excess grease from the pan juices and mix in the flour until lump-free, then stir in the broth or saved gravy (plus an equal amount of tap water if using the gravy). Bring to a boil, stirring to release any stuck bits from the pan with a wooden spatula. Turn down the heat and simmer for at least 3-4 minutes. Strain the resulting sauce, degrease again carefully and pass to serve with the chicken. As you can see below, I've added my saved gravy to the pan. I'll save it and freeze for next time, after we've eaten.

Image*For crisper skin, place the chicken on a rack, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours before starting the recipe.

**Cook’s Note: save left-over gravy, packed airtight in a plastic container, and marked, in the freezer. Use next time you make roast chicken instead of broth (add some water)—and continue to save again whatever is left. Just be sure to re-use the whole amount you save, bringing it to a good boil. Your “freezer gravy” will become a family treasure, rich in flavor and incredibly useful!