When I was in college I had to take a few introductory culinary classes as part of my curriculum, but at the time I was a vegetarian. I didn’t pay attention during the meat classes because I thought I’d never need to know how to cook the stuff, and I’ve always regretted that. During my veg phase I also interned abroad, working as a back waiter in Burgundy for a few months. I did eat fish while I was there because I was afraid I’d waste away to nothing in France, where bacon is considered a vegetable. In Paris I ate like a king, but 10 years ago in rural burgundy, some people had never even heard of someone not eating meat for non-religious reasons. I ate a ton of amazing food, especially river trout that were kept and caught daily from a creek behind the restaurant where I interned, but I can’t even begin to explain how much I regret politely declining the foods I turned down and missed out on. Boudin Noir sauteed in normandy butter with apples, rabbits raised in a garage by a little old lady that lived behind our dorm, fresh fois gras from a humane farm we visited one weekend. I’ll forever be kicking myself for that. Shortly after I returned I broke and went back to eating meat. I’m a real chump.
I always assumed that roasting a chicken was a delicate art that I could have learned if only I’d paid attention, but would never be able to master on my own. It’s no Boudin Noir with apples and butter, but a well roasted chicken is a beautiful thing. So, a few years ago I decided it was time to put on my big boy pants and roast my first chicken. All that time I wasted afraid that I couldn’t do it. When I finally drummed up the courage to do it and looked up a recipe, I thought it was wrong. It couldn’t be that simple. Could it?
Roasting a chicken is pretty damned simple if you have a few hours before you need to eat. There are a million ways to do it. Some of them are harder than others, but most of them are pretty darn good. I think simplicity is best when it comes to simple foods, so I’ve perfected my favorite way of roasting a chicken to be as simple, and as versatile, as possible.
I used to roast in pyrex, at first laying flat on the bottom, then up on a roasting rack, but things changed when I read about roasting in cast iron and I’ve never gone back. Cast iron heats up more slowly but more evenly than roasting pans or pyrex, and they maintain an even heat for a nice long time. Since it doesn’t overheat as quickly, your chicken’s juices don’t burn off and you can make your gravy or sauce right in the same pan. I like to roast on a bed of vegetables or potatoes to keep the bird from sticking, and then the juices run over and help cook your vegetables.
This is a really loose recipe, easily tweaked and changed to suit your taste. I like to wash, dry and season my chicken well before roasting and let it sit uncovered in the fridge for a few hours. If you don’t have time for this you can skip it, I just think it makes for a crispier skin. I usually toss some onions and cubed potatoes in the pan under the chicken, but the other day I swapped the potatoes for brussels sprouts and cubed butternut squash and it was truly amazing. You just want to make sure you choose veggies that benefit from low slow roasting, parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, apples, you name it. When the chicken is done I take it out and let it rest, tented with aluminum foil, then transfer the veggies to a serving bowl, leaving the juices in the pan for gravy.
Thickening with a roux is the easiest and quickest way, but if you want to let your chicken rest a little longer you can make a reduction by cooking down your juices and maybe a little white wine, or maybe add some cream or butter for texture.
Give it a shot. It’s not as scary as you might think.
Simple Ol' Roast Chicken
coarse kosher salt and ground pepper
cubed or bite size veggies such as onions, brussels sprouts, potatoes, winter squash, root vegetables, etc.
herbs, garlic, or quartered lemons or onions for stuffing
olive oil or butter
If making a gravy with roux:
4 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
Rinse your chicken in cold water and pat it dry with paper towels. Be sure to dry the inside as well as the out. Remove any “extras” that might be inside and discard or freeze for making stock. Wash your hands really well both before and after this. Place your dried chicken on a plate and season all sides with salt and pepper. If you have time, place your chicken uncovered in the refrigerator for two or three hours. If you don’t, set it aside and prepare your pan.
Preheat your oven to 450°F.
Arrange your vegetables in an even layer the bottom of the pan and drizzle with a little olive oil or melted butter and season with salt and pepper. Go easy on the salt if you’re making a reduced sauce so it’s not too salty when it cooks down.
If you like a darker color to your skin you can rub the chicken with olive oil or butter before roasting but I usually skip it.
You can stuff the inside of the chicken with whatever you want. Overstuffing can slow the roasting down so leave some space for air in the cavity.
Place your chicken breast-side-up over your vegetables and roast the chicken for 15 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 375°F.
Continue to roast for one hour. A three or three and a half pound chicken should be done by now. For a four pounder you can go another 15 minutes. If you’re new to this or worried about doneness, check by inserting an instant-read thermometer into the meatiest part of its thigh. You want it to be at least 165°F, but if you’re under you can put it back in for another 5 to 10 minutes and check it again.
Transfer your chicken to a plate and let it rest, tented with aluminum foil, for 15 minutes. Transfer your vegetables to a bowl or dish and make your gravy or sauce. If making gravy, make a roux by melting butter in a separate pan and whisking in flour. Cook over medium heat for 3 or 4 minutes. The amount of juice from you chicken can vary, so gradually whisk a little roux at a time into the liquid, simmer for a bit before adding more, until you reach the desired thickness.