“You should roast us a chicken”, my husband suggested, “Remember the days?
I nodded and smiled, nostalgically recalling the first years of our marriage.
We were students at the University of Maine. He was studying business marketing and I was a second-generation agricultural engineering student. His family owned a small business in Bangor, and I came from a long line of farmers.
Determined to strike out on our own and be financially independent, he went to classes and worked in the family business. I studied hard and cooked.
Our food budget was tight, and two meals always predictable: a Saturday night supper of baked beans and a roast chicken Sunday dinner.
It’s amazing the ways in which those two proteins can become delicious encore meals: hot chicken sandwiches with mashed potato and gravy, chicken and bean quesadillas, chicken tetrazzini, and chicken and bean soup. We had sufficient nutrition at home, and added variety to the menu with plenty of Pat’s pizza and draft beer.
There’s nothing more welcoming than the aroma of a chicken roasting in your oven: it’s the ultimate of comfort food. And roasting a whole bird is a skill every cook should develop.
If you can, start with a local, pasture –raised bird. Growing up, I remember eating chicken from the farm; birds that ran around the yard, pecking worms and bugs, clucking for corn. The meat of these birds has an incredibly rich, chicken flavor, unlike the commercial poultry bred for large breasts.
There are several techniques for roasting a whole bird; most of them include rubbing the carcass with oil, and stuffing the cavity with aromatics. We enjoyed a bird from Rainbow Farm (in Orland) prepared based on a recipe from Sara Jenkin’s book “Olives and Oranges”: Roast Chicken with Sage, Garlic and Lemon Peel.
In this preparation, finely chopped sage, lemon peel and garlic are combined with soft butter. The mixture is spread between the skin and the flesh of the bird, while the cavity is stuffed with chopped onion, carrots, and parsley sprigs. The bird is then roasted sitting upon the same vegetables, first at a high temperature, and then at 350 degrees until the skin is golden and the chicken and herb fragrance intoxicating.
No sage in the garden? Rosemary would work, or tarragon. Jenkin’s flavor tip is to allow the bird to rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting to be sure that the juices are absorbed back into the meat.
Our roast chicken that Sunday was a classic: moist and rich, with a delicate texture and perfectly seasoned. After dinner, my husband eyes twinkled when he patted his stomach and said to me, “ that was a mighty fine chicken.”
Classic Roast Chicken
- 1 whole chicken, 4 – 5 pounds
- 1 lemon fresh or preserved
- ½ cup large fresh herb leaves - sage, rosemary, tarragon
- 3 garlic cloves
- 6 tablespoons butter at room temperature
- Sea salt
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 2 small onions, quartered
- 8 sprigs fresh parsley
- 2 carrots cut into 1-inch pieces
- Assemble ingredients and tools. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Remove the organs from the chicken and save for another time. Rinse the chicken under cold water and pat dry with paper towels.
- Carefully remove the peel from the lemon, avoiding the white pith. Finely chop lemon peel, sage and garlic together.
- Place in bowl and add the butter and 1 teaspoon of sea salt.
- Stir mixture well with a fork to combine. Quarter the lemon and set aside.
- Using your fingers and a sharp knife, loosen the skin of the chicken away from the flesh of the breast and thighs.
- Slip the butter mixture between the skin and the flesh, spreading it over as much flesh as possible.
- Rub the entire bird with olive oil and season with sea salt and fresh pepper. Salt and pepper the inside of the cavity and stuff it with the quartered lemon, half of the onions, and fresh parsley. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine.
- Grease a roasting pan, and sprinkle the remaining onions and carrot pieces on the bottom.
- Place chicken on top of the vegetables, breast side up. Roast for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees and roast until the juices run clear and a meat thermometer registers 165 degrees. Depending upon the size of the bird, for 1 – 1½ hours more.
- Remove the bird from the oven and let rest for at least 10 minutes before carving and serving. Yield depends upon the size of the bird. Rule of thumb is to allow 1 pound of uncooked bird per person.