Ahh, chicken. The staple meat of an American diet. For a period of my life, it was pretty much the only meat I would go near, believing that its low fat content was ideal for a healthy body (I’ve since changed my opinion on this, by the way). When I moved out on my own for the first time, chicken breasts were definitely a staple in my cooking rotation. They still are today, only they come attached to the rest of the chicken, the way they belong.
Knowing how to roast a chicken is one of the best places to start when you’re trying to expand your culinary expertise. They are delicious, versatile, and surprisingly easy to master. It can be a little scary the first time, I’m not going to lie. This is because:
1. It’s intimidating to cook a whole animal. That last word might have freaked you out a little, which brings me to my next point…
2. We have become so divorced from our food chain, that as Americans, we prefer to think of our food only in its subparts (chicken-wing, breast, thigh).
It’s as if by separating ourselves enough from the reality of our omnivorous nature, we avoid having to accept that we are indeed eating another living thing. Are we really honoring that animal’s life by only eating its de-boned, de-skinned breast? If you’re going to eat animal products (which I recommend, for the record) try to find one that lived a decent life, and honor that life by extracting all the nutrition that you possibly can from it. After all, that’s how we got to the top of the food chain, and it’s how humans have been surviving as long as we’ve been on Earth.
Once you get the hang of it, it’s actually more time and cost effective to cook a whole chicken at once. A four pound organic chicken from the grocery store is roughly 12 bucks. (Keep in mind when you’re buying meat that you’re not just paying for the animal, but also the cost of its “room and board” the entire length of time it spent on Earth). If you spend just a little bit of time on Sunday, you can have the most amazing chicken you’ve ever tasted plus leftovers to be repurposed for the rest of the week.
How to do it, already!
A couple of hours before you are planning to cook your chicken, remove it from the fridge (this ensures even cooking temperature throughout). Set your oven to 425º. Remove the giblets from the cavity of the chicken, but don’t you dare throw them away! Organ meats are some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet- we’ll save that for another day though…
Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel and place a few pats of grass-fed butter under the skin. Season all over with a generous amount of sea salt, black pepper, and fresh or dried herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano, etc.) You can also place some aromatics into the cavity (garlic cloves, sliced orange/lemons, rosemary, etc.) Place the chicken in a roasting pan breast up at 425º for 15 minutes. Next, lower the temperature to 375º, remove the chicken and flip to breast side down. Depending on the size of your bird you’ll want to continue cooking for another 35 minutes to one hour. You know your chicken is done when a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165º. By cooking the bird breast down for the majority of the time, all the juices run south and you end up with the juiciest chicken breasts you’ve ever experienced.
Once done cooking, let the chicken rest for about 10 minutes before carving so the juices have time to redistribute (this is the hardest part by far!) If everything went according to plan, you (the cook) will get the first tastes of the crispy skin. The skin of a chicken right out of the oven is one of the things that makes life worth living, trust me. It’s also (contrary to mainstream nutritional advice) meant to be eaten, along with the rest of the bird.
After you’ve removed all the meat from the chicken, save the bones- again, don’t you dare throw them out! They can be used to make a delicious broth that is one of the most cost effective, nutrient dense food sources on earth.