The Food Groupie Club

Hi my name is Sarah and I'm addicted to food. I have been a chef professionally for about 12 years now and am currently teaching cooking classes at a culinary school. I seriously love to cook and eat good food. The problem with cooking and eating like the professionals though is that it can be kind of intimidating for a home food enthusiast. My goal is to bring good food into every-day homes. Anyone can make healthy, good quality, good tasting, and good looking food with the right know-how. So here you made easy by a professional!

I will be featuring some of my favorite chef's recipes in my posts and will note in the post what book was used. Their books that I use will be listed in my must have cookbooks tab.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How To Roast A Chicken

Ok, You may be thinking "who roasts a chicken anymore?". I know its super convenient to just buy the bags or packages of parts and just cook those up, but I believe we should bring back the bird.  Seriously, why do we only roast whole birds once a year at thanksgiving? And we even do that poorly most of the time! Bird roasting is a long lost art that very few people dare to do. I've heard one too many people say recently that they have NEVER roasted a whole chicken and I decided I want to do something about that.  I always tell my students that a sign of a good chef is knowing how to do the simple things well.  I take advantage of the fact that I do this frequently and forget this is not a normal activity for normal people.  So here you go: Bird roasting 101.  I did a chicken, but you can do whatever bird you want... like a turkey... no, its not against the law to cook one outside of the holiday season.

First step to a beautiful roasted bird...... Brine it! 

Letting poultry spend some time in a brine is a magical thing. A brine is just a salty bath for the bird. As it soaks in the brine the salt pulls out the moisture then it all gets absorbed back in: Moisture, salt, and other brine flavorings.  And when it's roasting, less moisture is pulled out because the salt helps to lock it in the meat. Salt doesn't evaporate like water does. Not only will you have the moistest bird ever, but even the leftovers will be moist and the meat will be seasoned and flavored from the inside out instead of just on the skin of the bird.  See, magical! You have a lot of options on the brine.  You can just use salt and water, but I like to use juices and wines in my brine's so there is more flavor. You can do orange, cranberry, or apricot juice, white wine, stock.... pretty much anything you want as long as it is a liquid.  If you do juice or wine, do 1/2 juice 1/2 water to dilute it a little.  It will be a very expensive brine plus the flavor might be slightly too intense if you don't.  You always want to taste the flavor of the bird, don't cover that up with other flavors and spices.  You can also just google "poultry brine's" and find some good suggestions on some combinations and measurements.  For my 4 1/2 pound chicken, I used 15 cups of liquid to 1 cup of salt. Then I just added in some spices I had laying around : black peppercorns, parsley stems, herbs de province, garlic, and lemon juice.  Just dissolve the salt into the liquid then pour it over your bird in a pot or bowl.  You can dissolve the salt by stirring it in, or you may need to warm it slightly.  Just make sure its cool before you pour it over the bird.  Pop the whole pot in the fridge to keep it cool and let it go a minimum of 3-4 hours or up to overnight {12 hours or so}

When you're ready to cook it, pull the bird out of the brine, rinse it slightly and pat it dry with paper towels.  Now its time for some real fun. 
I bought this chicken at whole foods.  I've been researching free range and organic chickens a lot lately and came across Mary's Chickens.  Mary's is a family farm and they provide a great product. No over-crowded chicken houses with un-naturally fat, sickly chickens stumbling around.  I'm very impressed with their handling of their birds.  Plus, while I was checking out this company I realized that I know the son which makes me want to support this farm even more.  Anyways, whole foods distributes their chickens and even for whole foods I thought the price was amazing for the quality of the product.  I just got the free range chicken {$1.99 a pound} but they also do free range organic {$3.99 a pound} and pasture raised {don't remember the exact price. I think it was about $6 or so a pound}  I just chose to get the free-range only because even though its not labeled organic... they're being fed the same and raised the same so I was fine with it.  Whole foods sells these packaged or you can buy them un-packaged from the meat case. 

I really want to reinforce something I have already said..... When you start with a good quality product before cooking, you end up with a good quality product after cooking.  This chicken was amazing.  I've always noticed with the bags of chicken breasts that I buy from Costco, they always have this weird super chicken-y almost sour flavor to it.  Its hard to describe, so hopefully you know what I'm talking about. Its not good.  This chicken tasted like chicken. I loved it! And it had a really good texture to it also.  So worth it.  Really, if you buy 1 chicken, that will feed 2 people at least 2-3 meals.  Plus you can make stock with the bones.  Not too shabby for 9 bucks.

Second step: Prep the bird for roasting. 

Really, if you want to keep it simple, all that needs to be done with the bird at this point is to rub the skin with a little bit of olive oil or melted butter and its ready for the oven. The oil will help the skin get nice and crispy and golden brown because oil helps to conduct heat to the bird. I like things more than simple sometimes though.  I like to cram compound butter under the skin!! Compound butter is a flavored butter.  You can mix in whatever you want in a compound butter.  They are amazing to just have on hand because they make a great finishing touch to a lot of different things.  I used 1 stick of softened {room temperature} butter and added minced parsley, lemon pepper, and garlic.  Add as much as you want of these things, there isn't an exact recipe for this. 
If you gently loosen the skin with your fingers first, you can take finger-fulls of this and push it under the skin and just massage it into all the nooks and crannies of the bird.  Sorry, I don't have any pictures of this but I was home alone and couldn't touch my camera with my butter covered chicken infested hands. But here is the finished product:

You may have notice my Ghetto-rigged trussing job.  I didn't have any butcher's twine to truss my bird.  Trussing is where you tie the legs and arms into the bird to keep it compact and prevents it from flailing everywhere while its cooking.  Its nice, but not 100% necessary, but still.... I couldn't handle the legs just dangling there in the pan.  That would be sad.  So instead I took a piece of foil and rolled it into a snake and wrapped that around the legs then tucked the wings under the body where the head used to be. Good enough right?  OH.... and put some fresh rosemary in the caboose if you have any growing in your yard. Aromatics make a difference!

Final step: Roasting

First let me address temperatures.  You will probably find a million different temperatures to roast a bird at.  Most recipes say 325-350 degrees. I prefer to go a little higher at 375-400 degrees.  The reason I like the higher temperature is I feel it gets better color on the bird and it cooks faster which means less time exposed to heat where it can dry out.  One thing you should not do is low temperature roasting {250-300 degrees}  Let me tell you something......{say that like fire marshal bill}... Chickens and turkeys are not your grandma's chickens and turkey's anymore.  Grandma did a low temp roast and let it cook all day because she ate birds that were running around her backyard.  Those birds had a really nice fat layer between the skin and meat which protected it from drying out.  The fat would melt and self-baste itself and be all nice and delicious with very little external help.  That doesn't happen anymore... so up the temp and just cook it.  If you low temperature roast today's birds, they will end up dry because of the long heat exposure. 

Put the bird in a preheated oven and LEAVE IT ALONE! Do not open the oven to baste it.... it doesn't need it.  Especially if you crammed it full of butter.  Without getting all Bill Nye on you again, basting really doesn't do anything to your bird but sogg out the skin and helps to encouraging drying. Its not necessary.  My 4 1/2 bird took about 1 hour and 15 minutes uncovered at 375 and looked like this when it was done:
I forgot to turn the pan 1/2 way through.... turn yours.  In a conventional oven with all those hot spots you'll get a more even browning on the bird if it gets a little turn. 

How do you know when its done??  BUY A PROBE THERMOMETER!!  This is a must have if you like to roast anything.  
These are wonderful because you can stick it in whatever you are roasting and leave it in.  The oven door closes on the wire and you can monitor the temperature the entire way through and will always know the exact temp the food is at.  You can even program it to beep when it hits a certain temperature.  I also love it because it goes to a high enough temperature so you can use it for cooking sugar too!  

Remove the bird from the oven once it reaches 160 degrees.  Let it rest for about 10-15 minutes and carryover cooking will take it up to the approved finished temp of 165.  Now its ready for carving and serving! 

I hope this inspires you all to tackle the easy task of roasting a whole bird.  I promise you will not regret trying this.

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