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Help: I'm too chicken to roast a chicken!

Hi y'all-

So it looks like roast chicken is so easy to make, but when I see the nice, whole, locally grown, organic chickens in the grocery store I freak out and head for the boneless chicken breasts instead. I'm trying to expand my repertoire from stir fries and curries - they're good, but sometimes a girl just wants something plain and simple. Which side of the chicken faces up in the pan? Do you roast covered or uncovered? And how do you know it's done? Any tips, encouragement, or chicken roasting stories will be greatly appreciated...

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  1. Be brave! Roasting a chicken is pretty easy.

    Either side of the chicken can face up. Most people roast with the breast side up, which puts the legs up as well. This leads to the prettiest presentation. But if you roast breast side down, the breast will be basted more and shielded from the direct heat, so the longer-to-cook thighs finish more at the same time.

    Definitely roast uncovered -- this allows the skin to crisp and brown. Covering is really steaming more than roasting.

    Definitely roast the bird on a rack so that it clears the hot bottom of the roasting pan, fat can drip off, and most of the bird is elevated above the sides of the roasting pan. If you don't have a rack, create one by resting the bird on a nest of thick-cut carrots, potatoes, and other vegies you like.

    Make sure you take out the bag of innards from within the storebought chicken. Rinse well both inside and out and then dry thoroughly with paper towels. Season the inside and the skin liberally with kosher salt, fresh-ground pepper, and I like some garlic salt as well. Be sure to preheat your oven. Some people like a high-heat roasting or at least to start the chicken at 450 and then lower to 350 after a few minutes, but I like about 375 for a smaller bird (less than four pounds) or 350 for a larger one. A smaller bird properly raised in the roasting pan can be done in 45-50 minutes, a larger one an hour to hour and a quarter. The bird is done when a thermometer placed deep into the thigh reads about 160 -- it will coast up a bit as it rests before carving and serving. Or when a toothpick or knife pushed into the thigh produces clear, chicken-broth looking juices with no pink, and when you can jiggle the leg easily from where it meets the thigh.

    10 Replies
    1. re: nosh

      Nosh has given great instructions...I would add only two things. First, the chicken is flavoured nicely with the addition of a lemon pricked all over stuffed in the cavity before roasting. Or you can use an onion for this. Secondly, you need to let the roasted chicken "rest" on a carving board after it is cooked and before carving.

      Be not afraid...this is a great first step into the culinary delights beyond boneless breasts and curries.

      1. re: LJS

        Yes, good 10 minute rest is important, otherwie the juices run out!

      2. re: nosh

        What a great description of roasting! Very nicely said. And true on all accounts from my experience. I tend towards a the higher temps. And if you don't get the bird off the pan, it's not the end of the world. I try birds breast up and breast down, and have found little difference. But I do usually do bigger birds like turkeys breast down as the theory that the juices run down into the breast seem to be true. I think roasting a chicken is the best thing in the world to do!

        1. re: nosh

          Excellent instructions. I'd add a couple of steps.

          First, I like to remove the wishbone to make it easier to carve the breast. It's just below the surface of the breast at the neck cavity, and you can feel it with your fingers. Push the skin covering the breast aside, use a pairing knife to get to the bone, and remove. Takes about 10 seconds.

          Second, a brine is IMHO the best guarantee of a juicy, tasty roast chicken. The simplest brine is just salt water (2 to 4 tablespoons salt for each quart of water). You can use fruit juices and add herbs and spices if you want, but the main thing is to submerge the chicken for half an hour to an hour before cooking. Be sure to dry it thoroughly before it goes in the oven.

          So get one of those beautiful birds and roast it. You'll be glad you did.

          1. re: nosh

            If you're making a rack out of vegetables - I highly recommend including thickly-sliced onions. There is nothing quite like onions that've been roasting in chicken fat for an hour.

            1. re: jacinthe

              Absolutely agreed. Actually, potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips, beets, and a number of other vegetables benefit from this treatment too. But onions are key. That's why I wouldn't dream of using a rack. It gets in the way of the vegetables.

              1. re: Kagey

                This post made me go out and buy a chicken for dinner. About the vegetable "rack": Do I need to arrange the veggies in some specific manner under the chicken? Also, how thick should the veggies be? I'm using carrots, onnions and potatoes. Thanks!

                1. re: diablo

                  Sorry for the late reply. No, there's no specific way to arrange them! Just cut them up into pieces--you want them not to go too mushy. I usually cut potatoes to about 1.5 to 2-inch pieces, onions into pretty big wedges (my chickens usually cook for 1 hour 45 minutes, and I don't want the onions burnt to a crisp), carrots in half lengthwise and into maybe 2 or 3 sections across...

                  I don't even put them under the chicken, per se. I put the chicken in the pan and then toss in the vegetables all around it. Make sure to season them with a little salt and pepper, and tuck in some rosemary if you have it--lovely aroma!

                  After the chicken's been cooking for about an hour, I turn the vegetables in the pan, to get them nice and covered with the pan juices. If you end up with a lot of leftover juice (sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't), it makes great gravy.

                  1. re: Kagey

                    Thanks Kagey. I ended up with some veggies under, some around, but pretty much followed your directions. Only thing I will need to change next time is to use less butter (my fault). I was overzealous and things got a bit too greasy.....I'll know better next time!

                    1. re: diablo

                      I don't know, I'm kind of thinking a veggie rack is a fabulous idea. It would help keep the bottom of the chicken's skin a little crispy.

                      I'm actually excited about going home tonight (officially it's sushi night) and trying it out! :D

          2. I'll just add to search for Marcella Hazan's recipe for Roast Chicken with 2 Lemons. It's pretty basic with excellent results.

            1. It's so easy! Don't stress! Just do it!

              Look - there are endless variations. Turning it, stuffing it, inserting herbs and butter in the skin, etc...all have their benefits. And later on you can try them.

              But Roast Chicken, besides being so tasty, is easy as can be. Do this:

              Get a chicken. Take what comes in the cavity out. Run water all over it and pat it dry.

              Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

              Salt and pepper the inside (a lot, don't worry, you can't mess it up) and put an onion cut into four pieces and a lemon cut into four pieces and 4-8 cloves of garlic inside.

              Salt and pepper the outside (a lot, don't worry, you can't mess it up) . Rub melted butter or olive oil all over the outside. Add some herbs if you like (but you don’t have to). Just throw them on … thyme leaves, rosemary leaves, etc.

              Stick it in a roasting pan or large skillet that can go in the oven. Surround it with garlic cloves, onions pieces and cut up carrots and potatoes (if you want, you can ignore the veggies)

              Stick it in the oven and cook it ten minutes per pound. Don’t even look at it or worry about it.

              When the timer goes off, take it out, set it down and cover it with foil. Wait ten minutes.

              Perfect Roast Chicken.

              Sure, there are fancier ways to try, and you can work your way there. But I often go back to this, particularly at the end of a crazy day. It works and it is SO EASY.

              I have a slightly more intricate version here.

              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/409738

              But your first time, just do it this way. You’ll be amazed and never scared again.

              You can do it!

              1 Reply
              1. re: Tom P

                I usually cook my chicken with a beer can, but when I read you "stuffing" ingredients I got hungry!

              2. Your responses are so helpful and reassuring! I am looking forward to roasting my first chicken this weekend when I will be hanging around the house and have time to really enjoy the results. I'll keep you posted :)

                1. I usually do cornish hens, but the concept is the same: wash, rinse, dry, salt and pepper, add garlic slivers and spices between breast and skin, place thick-cut vegetables on the roasting pan, place chicken breast-down on roasting rack, blast the chicken at 475-500F for a few minutes, turn heat down to 300-325F, then go for about an hour (or until it's done; I can just "tell," if that makes any sense).

                  I don't ever do poultry without brining, but that's just me and my inability to make moist chicken without doing so. I always include peppercorns and vinegar (I think any acidic liquid will do) with my brine.

                  I've never had an issue with presentation when roasting breast-down.