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When I started chickening (in the last four years now—after having been vegetarian for nearly 20), I found these Smart Chicken whole birds at Woodman’s. Their gimmick (if you will) is they air-chill and don’t add water. I have no real idea what this means but can only assume you’re not paying for the weight of water when you buy their chickens.
I can also assume that they’re a pretty alright company because Jeni St Market switched from Bell and Evans (a very alright company) to Smart Chicken (because of some distro and stocking problems for the small store).
However, the whole fryers are usually somewhere between 2.5 and 3.5 lbs and are $10-13. The organic version of the bird is similarly sized but twice as much.
Thankfully, Woodman’s also carries birds that aren’t Tyson or Gold ‘n’ Plump. Namely, Gerber’s Amish Farm chickens. These hefty fellas are 4ish lbs and $7ish. Plus, you usually get a neck and a pair o’ kidneys, the use of which we’ll get to in another post about the best chicken gravy you will ever smell, make, or taste.
During these last four years of roasting chickens, I’ve settled on a way that incorporates a little from GOOP, Ottolenghi, and a new favorite, Sam the Cooking Guy, and I’m here to tell you all about it.
You start out with a bird on your favorite raw-poultry-only cutting board and, instead of rinsing him off (which has been purported to simply spread the possibility of salmonella* around the kitchen), take a couple of paper towels and pat dry all over, getting in the pits and inside the cavity.
*It’s good to be safe because the effects of the bacteria mean you won’t be eating chicken any time in the near future.
Into the cavity, shove a couple of quartered lemons, and if there is room, cut the top off a head of garlic and put that in there, too.
Preheat the oven to 425° and get out your carbon-steel pan (or cooking sheet, or whatever you roast in).
Now, as the Joy of Cooking puts it so annoyingly, perform a simple truss! It’s never so simple, and I usually cut the string too short. But, I’ll attempt to explain it so maybe I can remember myself and can stop referencing the drawings in the book.
First, measure out at least two feet of string, but probably more, and start by wrapping the middle of the string around the Pope’s nose and give it a tie. Then, hold the two legs together (where there were once feet) and wrap the string around them so they’re very close, or even crossed. This is when I begin to lose patience; track the string under the thighs and up toward the wings. Some people (who cut their string long enough) wrap around the wings a couple of times, but in the reference photos, I appear to only have used the string to keep ’em close. Which is the point, really. You just don’t want them flapping about because they’ll burn.
Tie the string at the neck and go wash your hands.
Mix equal parts garlic powder, salt (there’s a difference), and ground pepper and hold about 12 inches above the bird and sprinkle all over until it’s healthfully covered. The bird up there is shiny because he was spritzed with avocado oil, a practice I have since halted. They render enough juicy fat that really, no extra oil is needed.
That’s it! Stick him in the oven at 425° for 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 385° and after a total of 40 minutes, get out your baster and start basting. Tip the pan with the cavity opening toward you so you get the lemon juices and baste for a minute. Put the bird back in for another 30 minutes and then check the temperature of the thickest part of the thigh (avoiding the bone, which will be significantly hotter). You’re looking for 165° or higher. Though, I’ve read some chef claim he “likes [his] chicken a little pink” and thinks it’s fine at 150°. I do not.
Lately, I’ve been sticking a chef’s knife into the cavity and tilting it into the pan so the juices run out there instead of on my cutting board. This also allows me to use the grease plus lemon juice as an amazing salad dressing. I did get myself a not-raw-chicken board with a deeper well and a slant, so the juices run toward the back and not all over the counter. I’ve used it once and it worked swimmingly. Get it?! Swimming in chicken juice.
The next really important part here is to let the chicken rest for at least 10 minutes, 15 if you can stand it. This is why it’s good to temp the chicken higher (180°) because it’s going to sit for a while and you don’t want to serve lukewarm chicken.
The next post about chickens will be the carving process, which is made so much easier after it rests. The fibers settle down, the juices get settled where they need to, and it’s not going to burn your fingers.
- 1 4lb chicken patted dry
- 1/2 lemon quartered
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper finely ground
- Preheat oven to 425°.
- Stuff the cavity with lemon slices and truss.
- Mix spices together and sprinkle over the bird in an even coat.
- Bake at 425° for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 385°. After a total of 40 minutes, baste the bird with its juices and return to the oven for another 30 minutes. When it registers 165° in the thigh, remove from heat and let rest for 15 minutes before carving.