Thursday, October 7, 2010

Perfect roast chicken

No matter how old I get, there will be certain tasks and talents that are reserved for my mom.  Or, if I must do them, I'll try to mimic my mom as best as I can (and probably grumble a bit when the results aren't quite the same).  Filling Halloween treat bags.  Baking banana muffins.  Filling Christmas stockings.  Crafting greeting cards.  Even something as everyday as making mashed potatoes just the way she does.  That last one seems to affect everyone I know, young and old.  For example, I can recall Matt's mom saying that she's tried and tried to make mashed potatoes just like her grandma did but can't get it quite right.  Everyone seems to prefers his or her mother's mashed potatoes.  And, rightfully so!  Food, at least for me, is tied closely to memory, and memories of home make me smile :)

Because it's neither responsible nor socially acceptable for a 26-year-old to depend on my mother for everything, I thought it was time to conquer one of my cooking fears -- roasting a whole bird.  Since I was young enough to remember, my mom or grandma has always roasted the Thanksgiving turkey, and very well, might I add.  I know I'm going to have to do it one day (pray not for at least 30 years), but how do people get started with this sort of thing?  Anyone not living under a rock has been scared into thinking the first turkey will come out charcoal black and result in the fire department showing up on the front step.  Curse you, TV and movies!  Images like that turn people like me into Chicken Little... "The bird is burning, the bird is burning!"  How can I possibly cook a whole bird by myself? And am I the only one with this kind of worry?

Apparently, I'm not.  Whew! :)  (If just one of you comments that you weren't/aren't scared to roast your first chicken or turkey, just be warned that we are no longer friends.  I'm only somewhat joking...)   I mean, I like to think that I'm pretty experienced in the kitchen and have acquired many culinary skills over the years.  I'm not professionally trained by any means, but how hard can cooking a chicken really be?  Plus, it's so cheap -- a full chicken is around $0.99 cents per pound, while skinless boneless breasts run anywhere from $4 to 5 per pound.  Right away, there were a few encouraging thoughts that came to mind.  Unlike a lobster, it's already dead... and, if you ask me, that's the worst part about cooking a lobster.  That initial banging in the pot just makes me shudder.  Also, there's no need to remove scales and bones like you would with a whole fish.  And hey, it was just for the man and me, so no added pressure of a holiday feast for many should the roasting adventure fail.

Prepping the chicken was the most difficult part, and I hesitate to use the word "difficult."  Perhaps "awkward" would be a better descriptor.  A few times I totally lost my grip on the chicken legs or wings and that whole bird went sliding around on the counter.  Woops.  Removing the giblets was the most anxiety-inducing part, but it turned out to be pretty easy since they came right out with little tugging.  The rest was a cake walk and into the oven it went.  What resulted was a perfectly crisped outside encasing a moist and flavorful chicken, with tastes of lemon and garlic permeated the meat.  I was skeptical as to how so few ingredients could produce an out of this world raved-about chicken, but I gladly stand corrected.  

Perfect Roast Chicken
(adapted equally from Ina Garten and a few other sources)

A few notes: None really, just have faith!  Oh, and though this may be obvious to most, make sure you wash your hands after every single time you handle the chicken.  This is no time to do the quick water only rinse you see on food TV.  (Laura, this note is for you!)  Also, if you're making this for an occasion, feel free to throw in chopped carrots and sliced potatoes about halfway through the cooking time for a picture-worthy dinner.

1 roasting chicken (5-6 pounds)
1 lemon
1 head of garlic, sliced in half (no need to peel or separate cloves)
20 sprigs of fresh thyme
Ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 425F.  Remove the chicken giblets and rinse the chicken inside and out.  Remove any excess fat and leftover feathers.  Pat the outside dry.  Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken.  Stuff the cavity with the thyme, both halves of lemon, and all the garlic.  Tie the legs together with kitchen string.

In the bottom of a roasting pan, drizzle about 1 Tablespoon of olive oil and spread around to coat pan.  Place the chicken into the pan.  Brush the outside of the chicken with the melted butter and sprinkle again with salt and pepper.  Tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken.

Roast the chicken for 1 1/2 hours (this was perfect for a 5 pound chicken), or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh.  Remove the chicken to a platter and cover with aluminum foil for about 20 minutes.  Slice the chicken onto a platter and serve with vegetables and starch of your choice.

Oh, and jumping up and down is permitted because you totally just roasted a chicken all by yourself without any matriarch in sight :)  Though I'll happily admit that I called my mom to rave about the whole thing.

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