Roast chicken just might be the quintessential dinner at home. The aroma, the luxurious flavor and the warmth draw family and friends like magic. Perhaps that’s the reason so many food writers and cookbook authors go on and on about the topic. My take: Roast chickens often enough that you no longer rely on recipes.
Start by buying the right chicken. I far prefer a small chicken for roasting. Commonly known as broiler/fryers, they weigh about 3 to 3 1/2 pounds. Sadly, it can be difficult to find small birds at the supermarket. The National Chicken Council says that just 40 years ago, more than 60 percent of all chickens were sold whole. Today, that hovers around 11 percent.
Instead, we can easily find packages of extra-large breasts, thighs and drumsticks. Not to mention boneless, skinless everything. Whole chickens tend to be ginormous roasters weighing in around 5 pounds.
In my experience, smaller birds don’t need brines to keep them moist, they cook quickly and they stay juicy. Roasters need brining to prevent dry breast meat, they cook unevenly and they take a long time to cook. If you can, find a young, smaller chicken that’s fed a vegetarian diet.
Before roasting, to save cooking time and make carving easy, I cut the chickens in half and remove the backbone. These half chickens will roast in 35 to 40 minutes – speedy enough even for a weeknight. Roasting the chickens on a rack, which allows the oven air to circulate, yields golden, crisp skin every time.
I take advantage of the juices by setting a pile of vegetables under the chicken. A mixture of apples, kale and leeks will remind you of holiday dressing minus the bread.
Golden Roast Chicken With Apples, Leeks and Kale
2 teaspoons each dried ground sage and marjoram or basil
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 whole broiler/fryer chicken, about 3 1/2 pounds
1 large leek, ends trimmed, split lengthwise, well rinsed
4 to 5 cups roughly chopped lacinato or other tender kale, about 6 ounces total
2 medium-large Honeycrisp apples, cored, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Mix the sage, marjoram, salt, thyme and pepper in a small dish.
Place chicken on cutting board, breast side down. Use sharp kitchen shears to cut out the backbone. Flip chicken over and split in half through the breastbone. Rinse the chicken, and pat dry. Rub all over with half of the seasoning blend.
Cut the rinsed leek crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Mix the leek, kale and apples in the bottom of a large roasting pan. Sprinkle with the remaining seasoning blend; toss to mix well. Add the oil; toss again to coat.
Set a wire rack over the vegetable mixture. Arrange the chicken halves on the rack. Roast, stirring the vegetables once, (be careful moving the chicken), until chicken juices run clear when the thigh is pierced with a fork and vegetables are fork-tender, 35 to 40 minutes.
Move the chicken halves to a cutting board, tent with foil and let rest 5 minutes. Spoon the vegetables and all the pan juices into a serving bowl. Cut the chicken halves into 2 pieces. Serve with the roasted vegetables.
Yield: 4 servings