Coming Home to Roast: How to Make the Perfect Roast Chicken

With recipes for

American is playing chicken. Roasted chicken that is. Rotisserie roasted chicken.

Roasted chickens are flying out of restaurants, delis, and fast food emporiums, from KFC to the trendiest French-style bistro. Even supermarkets have them ready to go for tonight’s dinner. KFC’s not so subtle name change some years ago is one good indicator of why roasted chickens have become so popular. Fried is out. Roasted is in.

People see rotisserie chicken as healthy and less fattening. But that only counts if you don’t eat the skin, which is often difficult to do.

Rotisserie chicken isn’t new. The Italians have been doing it for years and still make some of the better rotisserie machines around. But Americans have caught on that this method gives you a consistent way of cooking that’s always flavorful. Some restaurants fire their rotisseries with different fuels like mesquite, almond, and hickory woods. Others have developed special seasoning mixes with herbs like sage and rosemary. And some chickens are stuffed with flavorings like onion, lemon, and orange.

What makes rotisserie chicken so versatile is that people can really personalize it with side dishes. Or make salads for it. Rotisserie chicken is certainly a viable alternative to pizza. It travels better than Chinese food. And it keeps well until the next day.
Though among the simplest things to cook, a home roasted chicken is daunting for many. When a reader once asked me how to roast a turkey, I replied, "It’s easy. Just roast it like a chicken." "But I can’t roast a chicken either," she said.

Below are five easy ways to roast a chicken and you don’t need a fancy rotisserie from Italy to do any of them. But before you forge ahead, here are a few tips.

Use fresh rather than frozen chickens for better flavor. But you don’t need organic, free-range birds that have been sung to all their lives.

Herbs mixed with a little oil, or even water, area a great way to season the bird. On the outside of the skin, they don’t do much, but tucked inside, between the skin and flesh, they work wonders. Or stick whole sprigs of fresh herbs such as thyme, rosemary or tarragon into the cavity.

The chicken is done when an instant read thermometer stuck deep into the thigh reads 160 degrees, or when the juices run clear. Avoid opening the oven while the chicken is cooking, or the oven temperature will plummet.

The skin looks great when that roasted bird comes out of the oven (and let’s admit that it tastes great, too). But by tearing it off, you slash about 30 percent of the fat. Keeping the skin on while cooking is okay, though. It keeps the chicken moist.

Let the chicken rest about ten minutes before carving to let the juices sink back in. Add any juices that fall out during carving to the pan juices. Separate the fat from pan juices with a gravy separator or pour juices in a glass measuring cup and all fat to rise to the top for skimming.

Oven roasted potatoes or garlicky mashed potatoes make perfect accompaniments to roast chicken. You can serve a fairly substantial wine too, from a full-bodied chardonnay to a red zinfandel. My favorite is pinot noir.

A 3 1/2 pound chicken will serve two to three people. A six-pound oven roaster serves five to six people.

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No, the cooking time listed below is not a misprint. Cooking the chicken on rock salt prevents grease from splattering.

2 tablespoons softened butter or olive oil
3 tablespoons any combination of chopped, fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and tarragon
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1 3 1/2 pound frying chicken
Rock salt

1)Heat oven to 500 degrees. Mix butter with seasonings in small bowl. Remove giblets and wash and dry chicken. Stick your hand in between the skin and flesh of the chicken and gently loosen skin all over. Be careful not to break the skin. Slip seasoned butter under skin all over the chicken. Truss with string.

2)Put rock salt on a roasting pan or deep pie pate so that it covers the pan completely, about 1/2 inch deep. Place chicken on salt and put in oven. Cook 40 minutes or until temperature reads 160 degrees or juices run clear.

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The following recipe was adapted from a recipe of Detroit chef Jimmy Schmidt. It calls for a larger bird than the other recipes—a 6-pound roaster—but it still cooks remarkably quickly, about an hour and 45 minutes. Squeeze the cooked garlic in slices of earthy French or Italian bread.

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch fresh rosemary
1 6-pound roasting chicken
Salt and pepper to taste
4 large bulbs garlic, cut in half on the equator

1)Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a medium skillet, heat olive oil to about 325 degrees. Add rosemary sprigs and cook till crisp, about 2 minutes. Drain rosemary on paper towels. Let oil cool.

2)Remove giblets and wash and dry chicken. Salt and pepper cavity and skin. Stick a few sprigs of rosemary in the cavity. Truss and place chicken in an ovenproof skillet. Rub 1/4-cup rosemary oil across skin. Place on lower rack with legs toward back of oven. Cook 20 minutes. Turn heat to 350.

3)Rub garlic with remaining rosemary oil. Add to roasting skillet and cook until tender, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove garlic and keep warm while continuing to cook chicken, about 40 minutes more or until an instant meat thermometer inserted in thigh reads 160 degrees, or until juices run clear. Remove from oven. Pour pan juices into a fat separator or glass measuring cup while chicken rests. Skim off fat that rises to the top.

4)Carve chicken and put on a platter. Spoon juices over the chicken. Arrange garlic heads around chicken. Garnish with remaining rosemary sprigs.

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This recipe uses the Spanek vertical roaster, which is available at gourmet and cookware shops and poultry stores. For a darker skin, brush with oil before cooking, or cook an extra five to ten minutes. Carving this upright chicken is a lot easier than carving a standard chicken.

One 3-1/2 pound frying chicken
1 tablespoon herb seasoning mix, such as herbes de Provence
1 teaspoons salt (if no salt in seasoning mix)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper (if no pepper in seasoning mix)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 to 1 cup chicken stock or wine

1)Preheat oven to 450. Remove giblets and was and dry chicken. Mix seasonings and oil in small bowl. Rub inside the cavity of the chicken, in between joints and around neck area, but don’t loosen skin on the breasts (the juices collect here while roasting and keep the breast meat moist). Put the chicken upright on the vertical roaster, making sure the top of the roaster pokes through the neck cavity.

2)Put the chicken in a small roasting pan (a deep-dish pizza pan lined with foil works well).

3)Add stock to a depth of 1/8 to 1/4 inches. Put chicken in the oven. Cook 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 400 and cook an additional 30 to 35 minutes, until juices run clear or temperature reaches 160.

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Clay pots keep chickens and other meats moist without added fat. They’re available at most good cookware stores.

One 3-1/2 pound roasting chicken
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon salt
1 small onion, quartered
1/2 lemon
1 cup sherry

1)Soak clay pot top and bottom in water for at least 15 minutes. Remove giblets and wash and dry chicken. Mix butter and salt and rub cavity and outside of chicken with mixture. Stuff cavity with onion and lemon. Truss with string.

2)Put chicken in clay pot. Pour sherry over and cover. Put in a cold oven. Turn heat on to 480 and cook 75 minutes. Remove cover, baste with juices and cook 5 minutes more until nicely browned and internal temperature reads 160 degrees or juices run clear.

3)Separate pan juices from fat in a gray separator or glass measuring cup while chicken rests 10 minutes. Cut up chicken, put on a platter and pour juices over.

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Olive oil or vegetable oil spray
3 small cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or rosemary, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
3 9-ounce bone-in chicken breasts

Heat oven to 475 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with oil spray. Mix garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Pull skins slightly away from breast meat. Stuff 1/3 of the seasoning mix under the skin of each breast. Put breasts on baking sheet and roast 20 minutes or until juices run clear.

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