9.18.2006

Autumn Classics II: Back to (Quasi) Basics

After last week’s introduction to autumn, I was left wondering what other seasonal dishes would be appropriate to begin serving up. Amazingly enough, both Rob and I started thinking about roast chicken, when it occurred to me that I never have actually made a roast chicken. I have a habit of assuming I can make pretty much any recipe I can read, and so it wasn’t exactly a daunting thought to tackle something like that – I’ve cooked two massive turkeys successfully for group Thanksgivings; how difficult could a chicken really be?
The final answer is not very at all, actually, but the devil in the details is that there seem to be thousands of ways to roast a chicken, perhaps more variations than I have seen of roast turkey. While roasting a chicken is in itself darned simple, finding a recipe is perhaps, for a novice, just shy of overwhelming. To make it easier, I started sorting the recipes in one of three categories: Basic, which are unpretentious and seem to be more what you’ve actually seen your relatives make and eat for a meal; Not Basic, which is a backlash category against Basic recipes, and may involve famous chefs, novel seasoning combinations or ethnic-style variations in order to make plain ole chicken interesting; and Quasi Basic, which is a backlash category against Not Basic recipes, and resemble Basic recipes except they’re likely to be sort of snooty because they have returned to the true quintessential chicken after rejecting Not Basic things, and they can’t quite help themselves from trying to vary upon and one-upping the Basics.
This recipe would fall into the Quasi Basic category, written for fellow novice roasters. There is some seasoning to be done, some temperature changing, some basting; but no flipping (sidenote: has anyone ever flipped a chicken with lemons or stuffing inside? Is it difficult? Inquiring minds want to know if real people do these things - without burning themselves), no brining, no de-boning, no trussing.
Since I cannot fathom roast chicken without gravy, there is a recipe for that as well. Gravy is supersimple, as the not-so-secret is simply to whisk the hell out of it and there won’t be lumps. This one did produce a rather dark gravy, but if you want a light one forego the pan juices and just use broth.

QUASI BASIC ROAST CHICKEN

1 6-7 lb chicken
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
2 lemons
~ tsp garlic powder
~ tsp dried sage
~ tsp dried thyme
Bell’s poultry seasoning to taste
Salt and pepper
2 c chicken stock or broth (low-salt, fat-free if you’re using canned)
½ c white wine
2 Tbsp honey (optional)

30 minutes before: Preheat your oven to 450 F. Spray a roasting rack with nonstick cook spray and place inside a roasting pan.
Make your herb butter: Microplane or finely grate the zest of 1 lemon. Add to the softened butter, along with the garlic powder, thyme, sage, Bell’s, and some salt and pepper. Mix well to combine.
Take the chicken out of its packaging. Stick your hand inside and take out any packets inside, making sure you’ve got everything out of the cavity – you can either dump these in the garbage or roast them alongside. Turn the chicken on its neck and let it drain. Sprinkle the chicken inside and out with salt and rinse it off in cold water, again letting it drain. Set it down on a good large size plate and pat dry with paper towels.
Loosen the skin on the chicken by sliding at first a finger or two between the chicken and the skin at the top of the breast by the neck cavity, and working in until you can fit several fingers or maybe your palm. Turn the chicken around and repeat from the opposite end going towards the breast. The skin should now be loose over the top and towards the sides of the chicken. Take small portions of the herb butter and slide it under the skin, rubbing over the meat to coat and sliding the skin back into place. When you’ve used about a third to half of the butter, take small portions again and smear over the entire chicken, including the drumsticks, wings, and thighs. Sprinkle a small pinch of salt over the surface of the chicken. Take the other lemon and quarter it and stuff it inside the cavity.
Set the chicken on the prepared rack in the pan. Place it in the 450 F oven for about 20-25 minutes (you may wish to turn the pan around halfway through). The skin should be beginning to color. Reduce the heat to 325 F.
Open the oven and carefully add the chicken broth and wine to the pan. Baste the chicken with the pan juices. Let roast at 325 for 30 minutes and baste again. Let roast for another 30 minutes and check the temperature though it will likely need more before it has reached 170 F. Baste and let roast for 15 minutes, and check again. Suck up some pan juices and place in a small bowl with the honey. Stir to combine and thin the honey a bit. Brush on the skin of the chicken all over. This will brown the chicken a bit more and leave just a hint of flavor, but at this point the honey shouldn’t burn. I like a rather dark chicken, but feel free to skip that. Let roast again 15 minutes and at this point it should be done and registering 170 F. Take the roasting pan out and let the chicken sit uncarved for about fifteen to twenty minutes, which is plenty of time to make . . . .

BASIC GRAVY

2-3 Tbsp pan drippings from 1 roast chicken
2-3 Tbsp flour
2 ½ c pan juices from 1 roast chicken, plus broth or wine to make up any difference

To get pan drippings, transfer the chicken out of the pan to a safe spot. Scrape the bottom of the roasting pan (this is really easy if you have a nonstick roaster) and carefully pour the liquid and scrapings into fine strainer set over a gravy separator or wide-mouth bowl. Take 2-3 Tbsp of the pan drippings and place in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Take an equal amount of the flour and whisk in the drippings to make a roux, the paste that forms. You probably want a light colored one for chicken, so cook it just 30 seconds maybe until it is a deep golden but not yet brown. Have your liquid measured out. While you are whisking like crazy, carefully in a steady slow stream pour the liquid in. Keep whisking furiously for a minute or two, at which point it should be all incorporated. Bring to a boil and then lower to a slight simmer to keep warm; if you want thicker gravy, simply boil it a bit longer, if you want thinner gravy, whisk in some more hot liquid.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Ellie said...

I've never tried making a roast chicken before either, but it is definetely on my list of things to do before I die. Nigella's simple lemon chicken is one I want to try, but the number 1 roast chook recipe I want to try is the beer can up the butt chicken.

No, I'm not kidding or being unecessarily rude. Google it ;)

8:56 PM  
Blogger emily said...

You know Ellie, I've heard about that before - and been rather intrigued myself. I think I need to work up to it, though. Let me know if you get around to it . . .

9:02 PM  
Anonymous peabody said...

Looks like it turned out great.

3:30 AM  
Blogger melinda said...

I want to try Taylor Florence's recipe - he layed strips of bacon the on the breasts and that look good once it had roasted. He also put some baby portabellas in the bottom of the pan and then just used the juices as an au jous sauce. I'll let you know if I ever get around to it :)

6:03 PM  

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