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Roast chicken: finger-lickin' good

By Elan Head

June 10, 2006

After six years as a freelance writer, I recently started work as a helicopter flight instructor, what can only be described as a “real job.”

I have a boss. I wake up early and come home, exhausted, late.

Man, how do the rest of you stand it?

Meantime, my husband’s new job gives him the flexibility to work from home, so he’s been picking up some of the domestic slack. And one thing he’s been making for us on a regular basis is roast chicken.

With temperatures picking up, “roast” anything doesn’t necessarily sound appealing.

Still, I count roast chicken as a great summer dish for several reasons: it’s relatively easy to make, it pairs perfectly with light wines and summer vegetables, and leftovers are good cold.

And if cranking up the A.C. while you cook adds a buck or two to your electric bill, well, you’ve saved gas by not going out.

You may have heard before that the secret to great roast chicken is great chicken. It’s true.

A plump, freshly butchered bird is so vastly better than the standard supermarket chicken that they might plausibly be different species.
Still, as I discovered a few years ago, butchering chickens is a big, bloody, smelly chore.

To my mind, the next best thing is the organic free-range chicken sold at Whole Foods.

At two to three dollars per pound, it’s not cheap — but neither does it require plucking.

Whatever breed or brand you’re working with, start by giving your bird a good rinse, inside and out. Then pat it dry with paper towels.

(For the crispiest skin, complete this step ahead of time; return the chicken to the refrigerator and let it sit, uncovered, overnight.)

Now for the seasoning. I think the best way to season roast chicken is with a paste rubbed under the skin, and I usually let inspiration guide me.

Sometimes my seasoning paste is as simple as pressed garlic mixed with olive oil, butter and salt. Sometimes I add ground cumin, dried chile or pounded fresh herbs — the possibilities are endless.

To work this mixture under the skin, start by prying up the skin around the chicken’s breast.

You’ll find that it’s not too difficult to slide your fingers along the breast meat, and with a little patience you can pry the skin away from the thighs and slide your fingers along the legs, too.

Work the seasoning mixture evenly into the breast and thigh meat, then wipe any excess on the outside of the bird.

For an extra-juicy chicken, poke a lemon all over with a fork and insert it into the breast cavity. Wash your hands!

Although high roasting temperatures yield crispy skin, they also demand close monitoring. I like to roast chicken at the moderate temperature of 375 degrees — which turns roasting into a more or less casual affair.

Start the bird breast-down in a roasting pan (use a roasting rack if you have one), then flip it breast-up about 40 minutes into the cooking time.
A five-pound chicken will take about 75 minutes to cook through, but start checking its temperature around the 60-minute mark. The chicken is done when a thermometer inserted in the thigh reads 165 degrees, and juices from the thigh run clear.

Remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes. To carve, use a large knife to slice through the wing joints and remove the wings. Then slice through the thigh joints and remove the legs.

Carve each leg into a thigh and a drumstick by cutting through the joint that connects them.

Cleave the breast in half down the middle, then detach each half from the carcass. If the breasts are large, slice them in half horizontally, yielding four pieces of breast meat.

Voila! Roast chicken — the perfect reward for a hard day’s work.

Now, Honey, would you mind doing the dishes?

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