Hands-on Chicken Roasting

While Ben explores Chicago for a week, tasting his way around the city’s best restaurants, I’m embarking on a culinary adventure closer to home: In with the kids on a Tuesday night staring into the cavity of a six-pound chicken. My daughter notes the anxiety on my face and offers to dig up some plastic gloves from the basement. “Yes, please,” I say. She returns empty handed. “Dad must’ve used them for all his dirty work,” she says. I breathe deeply. She rolls her eyes.

You’d think a woman on the verge of 40 — a farmer’s wife, no less — would have roasted a chicken at some point in her life. It’s simple enough, if you enjoy handling uncooked meat. But my cooking experience has always been mediated by utensils, protective prosthetics between me and, well, flesh. My tongs sear salted chicken thighs to lock in flavor. My wooden spoon stirs ground beef and savory spices pan until the pink is gone. Touching raw flesh has seemed unnecessary and unsanitary. Tonight, it’s unavoidable.

I pick up the chicken and hum, loudly, thinking the vibrato of my voice will distract my mind from the dead weight of the bird as I move it from parchment to sink. No such luck. It feels dirty, like a cold, loose appendage with hard bones in all the wrong places. Cold water flows in, around, under. My son suggests I scrub its armpits. I hum louder.

Once the bird is rinsed, Martha Stewart tells me, it’s time to shove lemons, herbs, and garlic up its whoo-haa and into its empty center. I consider what was there before. Beating heart, eggs (was this a hen?), guts, soul. I wash my hands. Again. And banish the bird to the oven, out of sight, but not out of mind, its body gone but not, I worry, its germs.

As I peck away at my keyboard while my bird roasts away, I worry about spreading dead chicken all over the keys. Good thing rubbing alcohol is nearby, along with the drinking kind.

Perhaps it was the wine, but I noticed a distinct feeling of comfort as the aroma of the great roast escaped the stove and traveled throughout our home. As the kids and I cuddled on the couch, we listened to the crack and sizzle of juicy flesh — every time we silenced the TV during commercials. Not so bad, I thought.

I’ve always assumed that roasting a bird was an all-day activity, remembering my mom rising at the break of dawn on Thanksgiving Day to do battle in the kitchen. I was surprised to find that, beyond rinsing, stuffing, and rubbing, roasting a chicken is a no-muss, no-fuss way to have fresh protein on hand for any number of recipes throughout an average week. All it takes is clean hands and a little guts — yours.

How to Roast a Whole Chicken

First, pull the chicken out of its bag and remove any giblets left inside. Pat the chicken dry and season the inside of the cavity with two hearty pinches of salt and pepper. Throw in a bay leaf, a whole head of garlic cut in half, about a teaspoon fresh thyme, and a half of a lemon.

Tie the back legs of the chicken together. (Martha Stewart has a helpful reference video on how to do this.) Smear butter all over the top and liberally sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the chicken on a roasting rack on top of a sheet pan to catch any juices.

Roast for about 15 minutes at 425 degrees, until golden brown. Then, turn the oven down to 325 degrees for about another 45-60 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken, until its internal temperature hits 165. To measure this, pull your bird out of the oven and stick a meat thermometer along the keel bone, next to the breast.

Once your bird is cooked through, turn off the stove and pat yourself on the back. You’re almost done! Drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil and let it rest for fifteen minutes before you slice it for your feast.

Alternate Recipe: Roasted Chicken, Cut Before Cooking

For Father’s Day, I made my second roast chicken, this time cut up into eight pieces before cooking. It can be nerve racking cooking for a chef on his special day, but this recipe by Gweneth Paltrow won my confidence with straightforward instructions and common ingredients. Regardless of what you may think of Ms. Paltrow and her uppity ways, her recipes are generally strong. I’m happy to report that Ben has been raving about it ever since. You can reference the recipe below, or just buy the cookbook, It’s All Easy.

Happy Roasting!

References and resources

Martha Stewart’s Perfect Chicken

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Sheet Pan Chicken

Gwyneth Paltrow, “It’s All Easy”