To me, roast chicken is one of the simplest and most elegant dishes I make. I know that in this day an age of ever ready rotisserie chickens (which are delicious and perfectly acceptable if you don't have time!) that perhaps its not necessary to do it yourself, but I promise you that once you try you'll be hooked on the flavor, to say nothing of the aroma. This is one of those "put it in the oven and sit down with a cup of tea and a good book on a Sunday afternoon" kind of meals and I promise you that it is easier to make than you think! A perfectly roasted chicken is simply of combination of patience, slow cooking and frequent basting. It's a bit of kitchen meditation that I love because it touches on all senses!
The delightful free range bird that I roasted last Sunday ended up in sandwiches on Monday, stir fry with snow peas and shitake mushrooms on Tuesday and as a delightful pot of stock on Wednesday! I will only use free range organic birds and this is because I abhor factory farming.
Warning- this is where I get a bit preachy! I love animals and I can't support that system. I am also really sensitive to hormones and antibiotics, and I don't get the same physical reaction from the organic birds as I do the others. Factory farmed chickens have been tortured by the time they get to your table...they've been fed poorly and over- supplemented and debeaked, a practice that really should have to be experienced by those who continue to perpetuate it.
So instead, why not give yourself the pleasure of going to the local farmers market if you have one near, choosing your own chicken and talking to the farmers that raised it. It's really not that much more expensive and it's really a great experience in getting to know all about your food and where it's coming from. Lot's of local farmers have started raising the beautiful heirloom varieties of chickens and they really do taste better and you have the pleasure of knowing that your food is coming from a sustainable system. For me, that always enhances the pleasure and the farmers who raise the birds ALWAYS have great recipes that they're just dying to give to you!
So here's the caveat! This is not a low calorie, low cholesterol recipe! However I deem most delicious things fine in moderation!
To start , I rinse the bird inside and out, neck, gizzards and all. To be truthful, I roast the "nasty bits" (as Anthony Bourdain calls them!) but never eat them , choosing instead to share them with the dog! They do lend a wonderful rich flavor to the drippings as they are roasting so don't throw them out if you can help it! After the bird is rinsed, I take my cast iron roasting pan and lay a mirepoix of fresh vegetables on the bottom.
A mirepoix is a combination of diced carrots, onions, golden beets and celery, and is an excellent moistening base for many different types of roasts.Then season the vegetables with a teaspoon of fresh sage and a bit of salt and pepper and drizzle them with a bit of good ollive oil.
Next I soften a stick of salted butter and add to that about a tablespoon of white truffle oil (a little goes a long way!), and some dried herb's de provence. You can also use a mixture of Boursin cheese (the garlic and herb type) mixed with the butter...Yummm! With both hands gently start from the opened cavity and loosen the skin from the bird without removing it. Really what you are trying to do is just get room between the skin and the meat so that you can season it. Then take small handfuls of the butter mixture and rub it underneath of the skin onto the breast meat. Take whatever butter is left and rub it onto the the skin. Sometimes I take several slices of really good bacon (I told you that this was a dietary nightmare:) and lay them on top of the chicken as well, the bacon really flavors the pan drippings.
Then, take one large yellow onion and quarter it, one meyer lemon (cut in half) and several good sized sprigs of fresh rosemary and stuff it into the cavity of the bird and finally add a cup of water. You will probably need to add a bit more water along the way, but you never want it to be to juicy! Place the chicken breast side up onto the vegetables and put the whole thing into a 375 degree oven. I like to roast my chicken slowly, basting frequently. After about 50 minutes, I turn the chicken upside down so that the juices from the dark meat flow into the breast, keeping the whole bird moist. I roast the chicken like that for another 1/2 hour and then turn it right side up. At this point it will definitely be browning but not yet crackly and golden. Turn the heat up a bit and watch carefully. Keep basting the chicken with the drippings for about another 15 minutes and you'll be rewarded with a golden skin and very moist flavorful meat.
Take the chicken out of the pan and place it on a wooden carving board so that it can rest for a few minutes because as it cool the juices will settle back into the bird. If you carve it when it is hot, the meat will be very dry. Take the roasting pan and place it on the top burners of your stove and turn the burners onto medium. Reduce the pan mixture by about a third (whisking consistently...you want to get the good browned bits up!) and then add 1 cup of white wine or sherry that you have enhanced with a tablespoon of organic chicken stock base , 1 scant tablespoon of saucing flour and a pressed clove of garlic. Whisk the wine mixture into the sauce and let it cook for a few minutes and then add a good knob of butter and a tablespoon or two of heavy cream, both of which will give the sauce a lovely sheen.
I have added sliced mushrooms to the sauce as well with delicious results. Remove the vegetables from inside the bird and discard. Slice the chicken and serve each portion with a few tablespoons of the sauce. I love to serve a side of steamed asparagus with this and some lightly buttered egg noodles or gnocchi. A simple green salad with walnuts, a bit of fresh pear and blue cheese is also a perfect compliment.
A glass of white wine, hard cider or champagne will complete this feast and some really good bread to enjoy with the gravy.
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The gorgeous photogrpah came from http://communitychickens.blogspot.com/2012/10/got-pumpkins-make-chicken.html#.UO7Fr4njl9k