When I began cooking I thought I needed a recipe to roast a chicken. I turned to Ina Garten, whose The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, her first of many, was given to me as a housewarming gift by a friend who remains a friend today. That book was first published in 1999, and I was already on my second house. My first forays into the kitchen began when I was a child, but it wasn’t until I had my first house in the mid-1990’s that I began to really plan and execute meals on a regular basis. I was too timid to roast a whole chicken for a long time. Then Ina saved me with her Perfect Roast Chicken recipe on page 130. I still have my original copy of the book. Ina and I were meant to grow old together.
Instead of a recipe, I offer you a method and encourage you to free style. If you are new to cooking, I suggest you purchase an instant read meat thermometer. This will save you from both food poisoning and dried out over-cooked chicken.
- Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Oil the bottom of a 10″ (mine’s 10.25 inches) cast iron pan. Use an oil that tolerates high heat (canola, avocado, grapeseed) (NOT olive oil).
- Layer cut root vegetables on the bottom. I like any combination of potatoes, carrots, golden beets, celery root, turnips, and rutabaga. Cut up an onion into quarters or eighths, depending on its size, and add to the vegetable layer.
- Stuff the cavity of a chicken with slices of lemon, garlic, shallot, and sprigs of fresh herbs. Use whatever herbs you have on hand. I like thyme, parsley, tarragon or rosemary.
- Truss the chicken so that the legs stay closed over the cavity. Fold the wings back underneath the body. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables.
- Rub olive oil over the breast and legs. Then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and dried herbs du Provence.
- Put the whole thing into the oven. It will take about 90 minutes to cook through.
- Once you’ve popped it into the oven, warm a cup of chicken stock in the microwave. After about 20 minutes of cooking, baste the chicken with a bit of stock. Check the pan every 15-20 minutes to make sure it isn’t drying out. Baste to keep the chicken and vegetables moist, but don’t overdo it. A little goes further than you may think.
Things I’ve learned through experience:
- Let the chicken warm up a bit at room temperature before cooking, especially if you notice the inside cavity is frosty.
- Watch a YouTube video to learn how to truss the bird like a pro. Seriously, this is invaluable. I went through a lot of kitchen twine and whacky gymnastics to learn the most effective way to do this before YouTube existed. You don’t have to.
- Once out of the oven, let the chicken rest on a large cutting board for at least 20 minutes. Tent it with foil and wait. Pour yourself a glass of wine. Do not rush the resting time. It makes a huge difference when you cut the chicken up into pieces; you’ll have less mess and better meat because the juices will recede into the flesh rather than running out.