The first time I ever roasted an entire chicken, I immediately went to YouTube and watched Julia Child’s demonstration. I watched the entire video, totally rapt by her charm and bravada, and horrified by her lack of hand-washing. Although I don’t truss, nor use a roasting spit, I still follow Julia’s basic chicken roasting tenets with a perfect success rate thus far.
I have officially roasted several chickens now and each has been better than the last. My levels of chicken roasting experience are not in the Julia Child range, but I feel quite confident and comfortable around a whole chicken. And I have tips, folks. Wise tips!
Roasted Chicken and Vegetables
1 whole chicken, about 4 lbs.
salt and pepper
1 softened stick of unsalted butter (8 T.)
1 large onion
4 – 8 cloves garlic, whole & peeled
1 large lemon
1 bunch fresh herbs of choice
2 – 3 cups roughly diced vegetables of choice
First things first: you need a whole roasting chicken that weighs about 4 pounds. The basic formula used to determine how long your chicken needs in the oven is as follows: 45 minutes, plus 7 minutes per pound. Ergo, a 4 pound chicken would require 45 minutes of cooking time, plus 7 x 4 = 28 minutes, bringing us to 1 hour and 13 minutes of cooking time. Plan accordingly!
The best way to thaw a frozen chicken is to let it sit, still wrapped, in the fridge for 3 – 6 days (the variation accounts for how cool or warm you keep your fridge).
When your chicken has thawed and you’re ready to begin, unwrap and rinse the chicken. At this time, I also remove whatever giblets are inside. Most store-bought chickens will come in one of two ways: 1) with the neck and giblets packaged neatly in a bag and stuffed in the chicken; 2) with the neck and giblets completely removed and absent from the carcass. Sometimes, you will find a chicken with the giblets still intact inside the chicken. In this case, you must rip them out. The giblets are anything inside the cavity that looks like an organ, basically. You can save your giblets for later cooking (stuffing, anyone?), or not. But definitely save the neck bone, for stock.
I rinse quickly, just enough to get most of the blood out of the cavity. Afterward, you must pat the chicken dry (inside and out) with so many paper towels you should donate to Greenpeace afterward to mitigate the environmental damage. As you’re drying, pluck out any stray feathers.
When finished drying, generously cover the bird in salt and pepper. Rub it into the skin a bit.
Now, the chicken needs to sit out for at least 2 hours to come to room temperature. I suppose if it’s a very hot day (or a very cold one), that time may vary. The best way to check if it’s room temperature is to put your fingers right in the cavity – if it feels icy or frozen, you’re not there yet!
I always let the chicken sit on a paper towel as it’s coming to room temperature, to absorb even more of the moisture. While the chicken is sitting for 2 hours, do the following: 1) make sure your butter is softened; 2) pre-heat your oven to 425F; 3) chop your bunch of herbs [I recommend fresh oregano, thyme, basil, Italian parsley and/or rosemary]; 4) butter your roasting pan. I simply use a large glass Pyrex casserole dish.
Can you tell I didn’t let my butter soften long enough? Let it soften lots, or it will be difficult to work with.
Once the chicken is at room temperature, and the butter has softened, and the oven has pre-heated, and the pan has been greased and the herbs chopped, you are ready. You never thought you would be, did you? But here you are. Now is the time to get your hands dirty. I highly recommend keeping a roll of paper towel next to you as you work, for hand-wiping, and I also recommend that you throw the entire roll out once you’re done, even if it’s not completely used up, to avoid contamination.
Take the chicken and place it in the buttered roasting dish. Some folks prefer placing it breast-side up, but I have found no difference, having done it both ways. Many choose to truss it, but I am lazy. Your call!
Lightly salt the chicken, again. Then take the softened butter and massage it into the chicken, tenderly and with great affection. Yes, all of the butter. Gently slide your fingers under the skin, to separate it from the meat, and rub the butter under the skin as well as on top of it. Sprinkle with your chopped herbs.
Now that your chicken is buttered, leave it resting in its dish while you prep your vegetables. There are vegetables that will be going inside the carcass (garlic, onion and one fruit: a lemon), and vegetables that will be placed around the chicken (I recommend using Brussels sprouts, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, and/or any other root vegetables).
Peel and quarter your onion, and stuff it the cavity. Same with the peeled, whole garlic cloves, and the quartered lemon.
As for the rest of your vegetables of choice that will be roasted with the chicken — soaking up its delicious, buttery juices — I recommend chopping them roughly, because they will be in the oven for quite a while. Keep your Brussels sprouts whole. Quarter your largest potatoes, halve the medium ones, and leave fingerlings whole. Place them around the chicken and don’t be afraid to pile a bit. Lightly salt the vegetables. You can season the vegetables with a little ground pepper if you’d like, but I leave mine be. They will be incredibly flavorful, no matter what.
Now that your oven is absolutely and perfectly pre-heated, it’s finally time to use it. Place your chicken in the center of the oven, and roast for 20 minutes.
After you’ve roasted for the first 20 minutes, turn your oven down to 350F. Take the chicken out of the oven, and flip it to the other side, and agitate your roasting vegetables a bit, so they cook evenly. This takes some finesse and practice, so don’t be discouraged if you make a huge mess. Spoon some of the juices and the butter from the pan over the top of the chicken, and put the chicken back in the oven (which is in the process of reducing its temperature to 350F) for 30 minutes.
So, now you’ve been roasting for 50 minutes in total (20 + 30), so it’s time to flip and baste the chicken one last time, and then let it roast for the remaining 23 minutes.
Once you’re at the 73 minute mark, stick an instant read thermometer into the “thighpit” of the chicken (the armpit, of the thigh…you get it, right?) to make sure it reads between 165-170F(ish). If it reads lower than that, put it back in the oven and check with the thermometer every 5 minutes until it reaches a safe temperature range.
If you do not have a meat thermometer, you can tell the chicken is done in other ways. If the juices are running clear, your chicken is done. Please don’t cut into your chicken to check — it promotes dryness. Buy a meat thermometer, okay?
Once the chicken is done cooking, let it sit for about 10 minutes before cutting into it. Use a large carving knife to take off the legs and wings. Then, if you’re anything like me, you will stand around the chicken, greedily munching on the meat (and the vegetables) with your fingers.
Pull all of the meat off the carcass and refrigerate the leftover meat, to be used on sandwiches, quesadillas, atop pizzas, with eggs, etc., and save the carcass and neck for making stock (freeze the bones in a Ziploc bag, if you’re not planning on making the stock right away).