I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard a foodie proclaim that roasting a chicken is the easiest thing in the world and the perfect place for new cooks to start.
Buying and cooking a whole chicken requires a number of steps that can make a new cook uncomfortable. First you have to know where to get the chicken—and if you want a pastured, antibiotic-free bird (as you should) this isn’t always straight forward. To make the purchase you must also be comfortable talking to the butcher even though there’s a good chance you have no idea what you’re talking about. You also have to be willing and able to deal with raw meat, which makes many people queasy in and of itself. Lastly, cooking meat requires special equipment such as a meat thermometer and roasting pan, which newbies might not have access to.
So no, roasting chicken is not the easiest thing on earth. But if you can get over all those things, it really isn’t that hard either.
Being a food writer, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I roasted my first chicken last month, and my second last night. I have a zillion excuses for why I hadn’t done it before. I think the main one is that a whole chicken just sounds so big, like too much work and too much food. But I was inspired by Ruth Reichl’s recipe in her book Garlic and Sapphires, so I finally built up the courage to make it happen.
I’m happy to report that both birds turned out amazing. The difference in flavor between a real farm fresh chicken and the massive “boneless skinless” breasts I grew up eating is truly phenomenal. That alone is reason enough to try the recipe, in my opinion.
I don’t want to poach Ruth’s entire recipe for chicken and roasted potatoes, but for the bird you basically just preheat your oven to 400 degrees, put the excess fat under the skin on top of the breast meat, put a fork-punctured lemon into the cavity, coat the skin with salt, pepper and olive oil and cook for one hour or until the temperature is 170 degrees in the thigh. I improvised a little since there wasn’t much excess fat on my first chicken and added a pad of butter on each side as well. I also chopped some fresh rosemary and rubbed it under the skin. The second time I forgot the lemon and it turned out fine.
Sure it’s simple, but I know I’m not the only one intimidated by the idea of buying and cooking an entire chicken. I was at the park last night when I decided to run to the store and pick up something for dinner. When a friend asked me what I was planning to make, her response was pure shock, “You’re going to cook a WHOLE chicken! Darya, can I please take cooking lessons from you?”
She seemed so impressed I couldn’t bring myself to admit it was only my second attempt and I had no idea if I could pull it off again. Then I realized she would probably like to know.
Thanks Elle for the reminder that even the “easy” stuff takes some courage if you’ve never done it before.
UPDATE: Since writing this post last year I’ve roasted at least 15 chickens and used the bones to make stock. The first step really is the hardest.