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KotW: Roast Chicken, Part One (The Bird Itself) November 1, 2008

Posted by schizodigestive in chicken, Kip of the Week, roasts.

A roast chicken is one of the most satisfying dishes you can make for dinner — and, if you approach it correctly, economical as well. At this writing, a good-grade, battery-raised, cold-case chicken can cost less than a dollar a pound, and the yield of cooked meat is about 50% of the raw weight, so the meat on your plate and ready to eat is still less than two dollars a pound… a lot less than almost any kind of red meat or, actually, even some vegetable dishes. Furthermore, chicken is really tasty if you cook it correctly.

That’s the good news. The less good news resides in two chronic shortcomings. One: A supermarket chicken seasoned with salt and pepper and shoved in an oven doesn’t taste like much, and a full-flavored free-range or kosher chicken (at least where I live) can cost about $3 a pound. Two: Even with the best will in the world, it’s hard to cook a chicken so the dark meat is completely done and the white meat is still moist.

You can solve both these problems with planning and technique — in other words, by really cooking, not just shoving the bird in a cold oven and turning it on. A lot of the flavor of the finished product will be flavor that you’ve carefully added during preparation. As a bonus, once you’ve used all the meat, the carcass will be ideally seasoned to make stock for soup; in my humble opinion, if you roast a chicken and don’t make stock afterwards, you’ve thrown out half the chicken.

For optimal results you need to consider every element of the process: the oven, the chicken itself, the seasoning, the temperature, and the timing. Let’s start with the oven.


A good oven for roasting, like a good oven for baking, necessarily involves more mass than the manufacturers of your oven were disposed to give you. A chicken prepared for roasting is like a loaf of bread — it needs a lot of heat and a persistent temperature. An ordinary sheet-steel oven really gives you neither, especially when you consider that by opening the oven door for more than a second or two, you lose a quarter to a third of the heat that you waited for.

The solution, generally, is to put heavy, dense, heat-resistant objects in the oven and let them heat up too. Personally I have a Hearthkit rock (http://www.hearth-oven.com/) which is expensive up front, but rugged enough to last essentially forever, and which improves just about everything I cook in the oven. But if you’re on a budget, you can put an oven rack in the bottom slot and cover it with re-used quarry tile or firebrick, or you can just put a large saucepan of boiling water in the oven next to the chicken.


Supermarket chickens are sold in two standard sizes: a “frying chicken,” weighing 3 1/2 to 4 pounds, or a “young chicken,” weighing 5 1/2 to 6 pounds. After a lot of chickens, I happen to think that the larger size has a little more flavor by nature, but this roasting technique is certainly worth doing even for the smaller size.

Remove the chicken from its plastic bag, and discard the absorbent pad under the backbone. From the cavity, remove and reserve the neck, the gizzard and the heart. (Personally, I discard the liver, but if you like chicken liver, refrigerate it immediately until you’re ready to cook it.) Peel the thick pads of fat away from one or both skin flaps at the edges of the cavity, and reserve those too.

Put the chicken in a large steel or glass bowl, dump at least two tablespoons of salt (kosher salt is best, table salt will do,) into the cavity, and fill the bowl with cold water. Leave it undisturbed for at least half an hour. This cleans out the cavity and thaws any lurking frozen sections in the chicken — you want it to be at the same temperature all the way through, or as close as possible.


There’s a bunch of things that you can use as seasoning for the cavity, in any combination you like:

Kosher salt (but go light, there may be salt in one or more of your other seasonings)
ground or crushed black or green pepper
crushed fennel seed or cumin seed
dried red flake pepper
“poultry seasoning” (typically thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary, black pepper, and nutmeg, but may also contain salt)
“Creole seasoning” (typically cayenne pepper, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt)
dried or fresh herbs like sage, tarragon, thyme, rosemary, dill, oregano, and/or parsley


Preheat your oven to 400°. Have ready:

9 x 13 glass baking dish
steel barbecue skewer
one medium or large yellow onion, peeled
three or four cloves of garlic, crushed without peeling
two to three tablespoons of your preferred seasoning mixture

Put the chicken in the baking dish and hold it vertically with the opening at the top. Drop in the crushed cloves of garlic. Pour in the seasoning mixture, and wiggle the chicken to distribute the mixture over the inside of the cavity. Finally, put in the peeled onion. Close the flaps of the cavity over the onion, so that they overlap; run the steel skewer through both cavity flaps and the onion, and out through the hole under the stub of the neck. The steel skewer conducts oven heat into the cavity, and also gives you a handle to remove the chicken from the baking dish when it’s done. Lay the chicken backbone down in the baking dish. In the corners of the dish, put the neck, heart, gizzard, and fat pads.


For a 3 1/2 to 4 pound (“frying”) chicken:

30 minutes at 400°
30 minutes at 325°
20 minutes with the oven turned off and the door closed. This lets the temperature equalize and prevents redness at the bone.

For a 5 1/2 to 6 pound (“young” or “roasting”) chicken:

30 minutes at 400°
one hour and 10 minutes at 325°
20 minutes with the oven turned off and the door closed.

Remove the chicken from the oven. Pick it up by the steel skewer and put it on a platter for carving. Take the baking dish, without disturbing or discarding any of the contents, and refrigerate it. You can slice the onion from the cavity and serve it as a somewhat crunchy vegetable, or keep it for the stockpot.

After dinner, remove any remaining meat from the carcass and refrigerate it in a Ziploc (it makes great chicken salad). Put the bones and skin in the baking dish. This can hold in the refrigerator overnight till you’re ready to make the stock.

Next week: Stock from the carcass.



1. sarawr - November 28, 2008

Ed. Note, Post-Thanksgiving: If you brine the chicken before cooking, the cooked weight comes to something like 75% or even 80% of the raw weight, so what you’ve got is a meal that’s maybe $1.50 per pound on the plate. Also, brined chicken is even more delicious than brined turkey, it’s ridiculously easy, and it juices up the bird so you can set the oven to 450F, toss the chicken in for about 15 minutes/pound, and walk away ’til it’s done — easiest meal in the world.

2. KotW: Unbelievably Complicated Borscht « Schizodigestive — All Food, All the Time - January 28, 2009

[…] 3- to 4-pound whole chicken one large yellow onion Seasoning as for Roast Chicken […]

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