Sometimes I assume things which I consider to be easy about cooking, things which are common sense to me, are the same for everyone else. But we all know the platitudes about “assuming” and “common sense.” There I go, doing it again…
They say if you “assume” you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.” They also say, “common sense is anything but common,” but who are these mythical “they” people anyway? I digress…
This concept was brought home to me recently while talking to friends, all of whom enjoy eating, but don’t spend as much time cooking as I do. I was trying to explain to someone about how easy it was to roast a chicken. They looked at me as if I just suggested they consider making their own bacon.
I said, “All you do is get a whole chicken, throw it in the oven, roast it, and voila! you have dinner.” But there I was, assuming that everyone would know this is just that easy. But many people aren’t aware, or perhaps lack the confidence to try it.
When I started this blog, one of my express purposes was to show that cooking need not be intimidating or daunting. I wanted people to see that it’s not hard to cook healthy, tasty food at home. I also assumed that there were enough blog posts already out there on “How to Roast a Chicken” that the world did not need another. But, as a friend pointed out, it’s a good “how to” reference recipe for any blog and the roasted chicken leads to the recipe for assumption #2 which was, “doesn’t everyone know how to make chicken stock?” At my Soup Swap party, I discovered that the answer was no, everyone doesn’t. In a future post, I will show how to make chicken stock from the remains of this chicken.
This recipe can be done two ways; with brining, or without. Brining a chicken can yield moister meat, especially in the chicken breast which tends to dry out, but also takes time which some people don’t have. If you choose to skip this step, that’s perfectly fine (I often do), you will still come out with a delicious fresh roasted bird.
The ratio of salt to water for the brine comes from Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking.
However, his recipe includes sauteing vegetables, cooking the brine mixture, and cooling it with ice. I prefer an easier method, but it is difficult to dissolve 6 oz of kosher salt in water so a small amount of water must be heated. You can do this in a pot as I did or try pouring hot water from a kettle over it in a heatproof container. Either way, the chicken and the rest of the water are cold enough to cool down the dissolved salt/sugar/water mix.
The brine recipe below is for a 6 lb chicken. You can adjust the ratio of salt to water down for a smaller chicken. Also note, the 3 different types of citrus aren’t mandatory, but if you have them, use them! If not, just lemons are ok.
Place the raw chicken in a clean sink and remove anything inside the cavity (neck, giblets, liver, etc.). Thoroughly rinse the chicken in cold water.
At this point, if you choose not to brine the chicken skip to the "How to Roast a Chicken" step.
Citrus Brine Recipe
Heat 2 cups of the water in a small pot with the salt and brown sugar until the salt and sugar dissolves. Allow to cool for 5 minutes.
Toast the pepper and juniper berries in a small pan for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Crush the pepper and juniper berries in a mortar and pestle or with the flat part of a knife.
Smash the garlic cloves.
Place the chicken in a 12 qt pot, large bowl, or large zip lock bag. Cut the citrus in half and squeeze over the chicken. Drop the citrus into the pot. Add the smashed garlic, spices and herbs. Pour in the remaining 13 cups of cold water and then the dissolved sugar/salt mixture. If the chicken floats, weight it down with a plate. Cover and refrigerate for 8-12 hours. Flip the chicken every few hours.
How to Roast a Chicken
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
If brining the chicken, remove it from the brine, rinse and pat dry inside and out. Discard the brine.
Rub the skin with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Place the chicken on a v-shaped rack in a roasting pan in the oven. A 4 lb chicken will take 45 minutes to an hour. My 6 lb bird took about an hour and 15 minutes.
Check the progress after about 1/2 an hour. If some parts are starting to get dark faster than others, cover them with foil (see photo above) and rotate the chicken in the oven for even roasting.
At 45 minutes, start checking for doneness. An instant-read thermometer is very useful here; cook the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees in the thickest part of the meat, thigh or breast, it does not matter.
When done, remove from the oven and let rest for about 10 minutes before cutting to allow the juices to settle. Like a steak, if you cut it too soon, the juices will all run out and you will end up with a very dry chicken.
For two people, a chicken of this size can yield many meals. Besides the first dinner which included the freshly roasted chicken, we had multiple meals including chicken burritos, roasted chicken with pita and hummus, stir fry with vegetables over quinoa, and a couple of sandwiches. As I said above, I’ll be making stock from the remains which will give me a free and wholesome base for future soups. Not only is it fresh and good, but frugal too!