Confession time: for the majority of my adult life, I only bought chicken in parts.
Breasts, mostly (boneless, skinless) with the occasional drumsticks, wings, or thighs if I was feeling adventurous. But every time – no matter how low the sale price, no matter how appealing the idea – I’d walk right on past those “fryers” and “roasters”, intimidated by the very idea of dealing with a whole, intact bird.
Around the time I turned 30, I decided to live dangerously…and purchased and roasted a whole chicken for the first time.
What a revelation.
Okay, first of all, it turns out that roasting a chicken is easy. Easier, even, than dealing with parts. And it’s quick. You can have dinner on the table in around an hour and a half.
Cooking a whole chicken can be extremely economical, because you can use the leftover chicken for soups, tacos, salads and more, and you can make delicious homemade chicken stock with the carcass. (Also extremely easy.)
And did I mention it’s delicious? Yes, those rotisserie chickens at the deli can be a great option on a rushed day, but I think my super-simple homemade chicken tastes better, and the chickens I buy tend to have more meat on their bones than the ones they serve up at the deli counter.
Are you ready to take the plunge, or just want to simplify your current chicken recipe? Let’s get started.
Roaster or Fryer?
The first obstacle you might run into is deciding what kind of chicken to buy. You’ll run into a lot of options, from free-range chickens to the plump, mass-marked birds from huge industrial farms. The chicken in this picture is an organic bird from Miller’s Amish Poultry, a semi-local producer in my area. It was a big ‘un – over four and a half pounds – and I bought it for about $11. (Read more of my thoughts on free-range vs. organic vs. conventional birds.)
You’ll also need to choose between “roasting,” “fryer,” and possibly “broiler” or “stewing” birds. The main difference is size and age: fryers and broilers are younger and smaller, while “roasters” are bigger, plumper and older. Stewing birds are quite a lot older and larger, and their meat tends to be stringy and tough: better for a “low and slow” preparation like braising or stewing, not great for roasting or baking.
For reference, I have never seen broilers or stewers at my local grocery store, but I have used both “fryers” and “roasters” for roasting and they’ve both turned out well. Judge based on your family’s size and appetite. (A few years ago, when our preschooler was a baby and our oldest boys were not yet teens, we could get away with a single fryer for dinner. Now? Not so much.)
The first thing you’ll need to do is remove the giblets and possibly kidneys from your chicken, assuming they haven’t already been taken out. (The packaging will usually say, one way or the other.) If you aren’t sure, check the bird’s cavity: the giblets will usually be wrapped up in a little package that you can just remove. Some people then save the giblets to make gravy or soup, but if this is your first time roasting a chicken I’m guessing you’re not there yet. Freeze ’em if you want the option later!
To Truss or Not To Truss?
Sometimes I truss my chicken. And sometimes I don’t. Trussing is intended to keep a bird’s wings and legs close to its body to prevent drying out and promote even cooking. It’s also supposed to keep the wing and leg tips from over-cooking, but as you can see, in the case of my bird, it didn’t.
No biggie: the bird was plenty juicy and wonderful everywhere else 🙂
There is also a lot of debate over whether trussing is truly necessary using modern ovens and quick, high-heat techniques. I think it’s a fun skill to know and definitely adds something to the presentation, but I haven’t detected much of a difference in flavor between birds I’ve trussed and those I haven’t, whether I’ve trussed them looser (like in the pictured bird) or much tighter.
My philosophy? If trussing seems fun to you, go ahead and try it. (I’ll be posting a tutorial soon.) If it’s an obstacle to getting that bird in the oven, skip it. It won’t make or break your meal and the whole point is for this to be a simple, simple, simple dish.
Roasting The Bird
If you google “how to roast a chicken” you will find approximately 18 million recipes, many of which employ copious amounts of butter, olive oil, fresh herbs, and require you to stuff things (lemons, onions, garlic) into the bird’s cavity.
All of these additions can definitely enhance your chicken’s flavor, but they are not necessary if your goal is to simply get a delicious, crispy-skinned, juicy chicken on the table fast and with little fuss. And if it’s your first time, you are probably looking for the easiest route to roast chicken success, not necessarily a Martha Stewart-style masterpiece.
So if you want to go super-simple, do this:
- preheat your oven to 450 degrees Farenheit
- remove chicken from the packaging, remove giblets if necessary, and pat it dry with a paper towel.
- “rain” a tablespoon or so of kosher or sea salt over the chicken’s body (I love my “salt pig” which allows me to always have a handful of salt handy! My pig was a gift and is rather fancy, but there are plenty of lower-budget options). Pepper to taste.
- place the chicken on a roasting pan, baking dish, or even on a cookie sheet (the roasting pan will allow air and heat to distribute evenly, resulting in a crispy skin all over, but even on a cookie sheet you’ll get a pretty darn good result. And sometimes I don’t feel like dragging out my big roasting pan or washing it later.)
- put chicken in oven for 50-60 minutes or until done (when a thermometer in the deepest part of the breast reads 165 degrees Farenheit.)
- let bird rest for 10-20 minutes before serving,
- serve as-is (yummy!), or slather with herbed or lemon-zested butter for a little extra somethin’-somethin’.
That’s it. That’s really it. I got this method from an Epicurious article written by Thomas Keller (of French Laundry fame) and it has been my go-to for years. Sometimes I dress it up by adding butter and herbs, or stuffing lemons or onions in the cavity before roasting, but just as often I don’t. I love it both ways, and so do the kids.
So if you’ve been afraid of roasting a whole chicken – or are just looking to simply the process – definitely try this method! I’ve made it this way dozens of times, and I promise you’ll get crispy, salty, delicious skin and juicy chicken, every time – without a lot of fuss.