I’m writing to you from the wild west coast this week. The kids and I came out here for a couple of weeks to take in our family’s Thanksgiving festivities and check out the Food Bloggers of Canada annual conference (more on that to come).
It has been a very long time—17 years—since I last spent time in Vancouver during the fall. (Aside: Am I really talking about my adult life in increments of 17 years? Scary.) And while Ontario and Quebec get all the attention for their colourful autumn foliage, I’d forgotten that fall in BC is beautiful too. In it’s own warm, drizzly, Mario-Brothers-magic-mushroom kinda way.
Skeptics: those are real mushrooms, I swear. I spotted a whole family of them under a holly bush by the edge of a busy street.
Perhaps it’s the weather, or some sort of weird poultry celestial alignment, or maybe I’m just an exceedingly diligent recipe tester (yup, that’s it), but in the two weeks I have been here, we have roasted FOUR chickens. All of them AFTER Thanksgiving was done.
The roast chicken is a humble thing, but so satisfying—impressive, even—if prepared in the right way. (And yes, after this 2014 roast chicken run, I am fairly convinced that there is one foolproof and perfect way to do it. Read on!) It’s also the holy grail of fast family food, because with a little planning one chicken can be stretched into three dinners. Eat half the chicken with roasted tubers and salad the first night; toss the remaining half into a casserole the second night (I am crushing on enchiladas right now; recipe to come), and then turn the carcass into a flavourful stock for a soup, stew or risotto on the third night.
I’ve tried countless recipes and methods for roasting chicken in my search for one that was easy enough for a weeknight dinner, but flavourful and moist too. I’m not a trussing and trimming kinda gal so the winning method had to be more of a throw-the-darn-bird-in-a-pan kinda thing. And while I do recognize the value of a good brine, I am still traumatized from dropping an entire pot of turkey brine on my kitchen floor last Christmas. I know brining is great, and I’m all for brining at Christmas and Thanksgiving and stuff, but it’s too much trouble—and clearly far too dangerous—for the weekly roast.
What I’ve discovered from all this tasting, testing and brine-dropping is that there are five basic steps to poultry perfection:
- Start with a very good very big chicken. By very good, I mean the best you can afford, whether it be free range, all natural, organic, or some combination of the above. And by big, I mean about 4 to 5-ish pounds, or at least big enough that you will be left with lots of leftovers for a future meal.
- Stuff the very good very big chicken with flavour—a quartered lemon, and a couple of handfuls of fresh herbs—and rub it down with oil and a little salt and pepper. This super simple combo adds a surprising amount of flavour.
- Roast the chicken on a bed of sliced onion. This leaves you with a soft oniony pan gravy type of thing that takes the chicken to a whole other level. At 9 months old, the Beansprout DOGS the soft onions before just about anything else that I place on his highchair tray. It’s a sign.
- Roast the chicken in a 400 degree oven. You need a little heat to crisp up the skin. Yes, the SKIN. Which brings me to 4(a). DO NOT REMOVE THE SKIN. I grew up eating skinned roasted chickens, and (sorry mom), they suck. They really really suck. If you are watching your waistline, ditch the potatoes and wine and dessert and salad dressing and just about EVERYTHING else before you ditch the skin.
- And most critical: Use a digital meat thermometer to test for doneness. I resisted this for years and figured I could test for doneness by cutting into the chicken or jiggling the leg to see if the “juices run clear” (wtf). But my digital oven-safe meat thermometer has been a game-changer. Put one on your Christmas list.
The full Foolproof Roast Chicken recipe appears below. I’m suggesting that you eat half the meat on day 1 and save the other half for a later meal (like the kick-ass Chicken, Goat Cheese & Spinach Enchiladas, pictured below), but that is totally optional. I’m also suggesting that you boil the heck out of the chicken carcass—because homemade chicken stock is about 156 times better than that crappy boxed or canned stuff—but that step is optional too, of course. If you do make the stock, stash it in the freezer for a soup, risotto (I have an excellent baked butternut squash one that I will share soon) or stew.
Happy roasting season, friends.