So, I've realized that as a defunct Lit major and lover of good food, it makes perfect sense that I would enjoy reading about food online and then cooking it at home. There are several websites where I get recipes and ideas, and lately I ran across this one on thekitchn.com: How To Roast a Chicken.
This is a simple, inexpensive and delicious meal. There are a few areas where their procedure misses a bit, and I've added a few things. Full credit belongs to someone else though; I didn't create anything new. What I brought to the table is the rough equivalent of writing my own notes in the margin of a classic novel.
Still, classic novels are not easy to understand. They have the ability to be debated for hundreds of years, and still surprise readers. To be timeless, they have to be simple but not easy, deep but not complex. You see where I'm going here right? Sort of like a roasted chicken.
A great roasted chicken is beautiful to look at. It fills the house with an aroma that I want my home to smell like (second only to Leigh's Chocolate Chip Cookies) and feeds us as a family for several days. Roasted Chicken is fantastic as a dish to serve when having guests over, because everything is done at the same time and none of it requires you to be in the kitchen until the very end. This is what I picture when I think of a perfect family meal, and it deserves such a place of honor.
The problem with roasted chicken and classic novels though, is everyone wants to bring something new to the table. They use words like "dichotomy" or "duality" in excess to make themselves sound smarter (don't believe me? Watch any episode of Top Chef or sit in on a 200 or 300 level Lit class at the nearest college.) They're unwilling to recognize that something can be good without being weird.
Bringing this all back to chicken, it's an easy thing to get wrong. Everyone has had bad roasted chicken-dry, flavorless, and bony. We can try to hide it with rubs, seasoning, sauces and gravies, but it just doesn't work. I've cooked chicken in lots of ways that I've loved, that I would stack up against lots of recipes. Beer can chicken, butterflied chicken, fried chicken, chicken 'n dumplings...but this one is my hands down favorite. Why?
Tasty. Cheap. My wife eats it.
That's it right there folks. You can look back at the recipe as explained on thekitchn.com, but I'm going to give you the whole picture of what I do here in prose form. I'll even give you a rough estimate of how much this meal costs.
One 4-5 pound whole fryer (we buy the hippie healthy kind)
1 1/2 - 2 pounds of new potatoes
One stalk of celery (we always have onion, carrot and celery in our house)
4-5 sprigs of rosemary (while you're at it, buy a plant and stick it in your yard)
Fresh ground black pepper (not negotiable)
Kosher salt (again, not negotiable. Table salt tastes bad)
Assuming that you have seasonings on hand around the house, this meal is very cheap. The chicken costs around 6 bucks on sale, $1.50's worth of potatoes, a lemon is like 50 cents, and maybe 25 cents total in onion, carrot and celery. Grand total: $8.25 to feed 4 people (or me and Leigh twice!) If you want something green, some salad or green beans round out the meal nicely.
12" Cast iron skillet (if you don't have one, drop 20 bucks a Wal-Mart and it will change your life)
A digital probe thermometer (this is essential to cooking meat. Trust me it's worth it.)
One sharp chef's knife (this is the one knife I use the most. Everyone needs one)
About 2 hours: 20 minutes worth of prep time, 1 and a half hours to cook (but don't time it, use the thermometer) and 10 minutes to carve and plate.
How you do it:
Turn the oven on to 450 degrees.
Chop all the potatoes into bite sized pieces and put them into a bowl. Coat them in olive oil, tossing the potatoes around to distribute evenly. Mince up some of the rosemary leaves and toss those through the potatoes (it should look like a lot) and then season liberally with salt and pepper. When I say liberal, think MSNBC and go for it.
Arrange all these potatoes around the outside edge of the skillet, leaving an open area in the middle. Roughly chop the remaining veggies and fill that area in the middle with them (no real need to season those, unless you plan to eat them. I don't.) So you know where this is going, we're trying to have the chicken rest on the carrot, celery and onion, not the potatoes.
Now for the chicken. Open it up, pull all those gross parts out of the inside, and lay it out where you can work with it. This next part changed everything for me--dry the outside of the bird with a towel. Then, lightly lube it with olive oil. This combined with a high cooking temperature is the key to crispy skin.
After lubing the bird, season the inside and out with salt and pepper. Make sure you get all sides of the legs and thighs, and around the corners on the breasts. Then, cut the lemon in half and stuff it inside the body cavity of the bird along with some folded up branches of rosemary.
Finally, lay the bird on top of the veggies breast side up and stick the end of your probe thermometer into the thigh (if you don't have the sort with the long chord, then you'll have to check it at the end of cooking). Set your thermometer to go off at 165 degrees, shove the whole mess in the oven and start cleaning up. After 10 minutes have gone by, then turn the oven down to 400 degrees and keep it there until the bird is done.
This is different from the original with the addition of potatoes and rosemary. The potatoes are the part that threatens to steal the show. The get soft and crispy at the same time, taking a depth of flavor that can only come from being cooked in the drippings from the chicken. As for the bird, the steam that comes off from the lemon along with the fragrance of the rosemary create a flavorful, juicy chicken where the meat falls off the bone. All this is hidden beneath a crispy skin that I'll fight people for.
In the end, when we're done carving and eating it looks like this:
Which is excellent for making stock, which you then make into chicken soup, or chicken n' dumplings, or giving to your dog if you want an ridiculous emergency vet bill.