Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How to roast a perfect chicken (and make delicious gravy, too!)

Last night Hugo roasted his first chicken! And it was a great success!

(Of course, by following my 5 easy instructions it is pretty much impossible NOT to roast a perfect chicken, but we won't tell him that.)

The 5 easy instructions are as follows:

1) BUY A REALLY GOOD CHICKEN. This is the hardest step, BUT once you have found a source of good pasture-raised chicken you will be amazed at the results, and you can always go back for more chickens in the future! Try to find the biggest, best local farmers' market you have, then go there on the most popular day (for example, here in NYC, the Union Square Greenmarket is quite big Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, but it is HUGE on Saturdays. Going on a Saturday will ensure you have your pick of chickens.) Chicken is usually available year-round as it is kept frozen. We actually get our chickens (almost always frozen) through the buyers' club that I have mentioned many times. We usually get chicken for $3 a lb. or a little more, so a 4-lb. bird is about $12-17. Of course, it's quite a bit more expensive than a battery-raised $5 pre-roasted chicken from your local grocery or big box store, but really do you want your kids eating all the misery that went into raising that pathetic creature? (lots of antibiotics, genetically-modified pesticide-laden chicken feed, brutal living conditions, inhumane treatment, disgusting processing conditions, and horrible overbreeding that causes chickens to grow breasts so large their legs snap from the weight) Enough said. Buy a good chicken and enjoy the delicious flavor, the health benefits, and do your local farm economy a service. (I should warn you also not to be fooled by labels that trumpet the words "No Hormones!" It is illegal to give poultry artificial hormones in the first place. Just because the label says this does not mean it's at all a naturally-raised chicken.)

2) THAW THE CHICKEN. Leave it on a big plate in its plastic wrapping for 24 hours in the fridge. Of course, you can also thaw it longer.

3) RINSE & PAT DRY. Also remove any lurking chicken parts from the interior. You can save the organs if you like (I recommend doing this). Then place in an oven-proof dish, preferably glass or ceramic.

4) SLATHER WITH BUTTER! This is important. Do NOT use margarine. Do NOT use olive oil. Do NOT use some soybean oil crap on this. Treat your chicken right. Then sprinkle all over generously with sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper.

5) COOK THE CHICKEN. For a 4-lb. chicken you will want to roast it for about an hour and 20 minutes or so at 375 degrees (400 degrees if not using glass or ceramic). You don't need to wrap the chicken in anything and you don't need to baste it. All you have to do is stick it in the oven and check on it occasionally if you enjoy watching the magic happen. The chicken is done when it is a uniform crispy golden brown all over, and there is about an inch of delicious chicken fat sizzling in the bottom of the pan.

The chicken should cool for a few minutes before you serve it. Just take it out of the pan and set it on a platter. At this point I usually indulge in quite a lot of delicious liquid chicken fat, which is a little salty and absolutely divine. (Do I need to tell you it's also superlatively nourishing? This is not like taking a mouthful of vitamins to be healthy. This is the way eating healthy is supposed to be.)

You can make an easy gravy with just 5 ingredients: chicken stock or broth, the liquid chicken fat in the pan, 2 heaping tablespoons of flour (whole wheat pastry flour or unbleached white flour), seasoning (sea salt & pepper), and some form of cream (sour cream, creme fraiche, or even the cream at the top of your bottle of raw milk). You want to keep the pan kind of warm for this, so I recommend putting it back in the oven with the rack sticking out and bend over it while you stir (the oven can be off, though).

Add 2 cups broth to the pan, then dump in the flour and begin stirring. If you want to get all fancy and sift it into the pan this will save a lot of stirring time, but it's not necessary. Just begin stirring and smoothing out the lumps. Just as you despair that the gravy will never thicken and reach for the flour, the thickening will occur. It happens quickly when it starts! At this point you can add your seasonings. If too thick, you can always add more broth. If too thin, you can always add a little more flour. When the desired thickness and flavor is reached, remove the pan from the oven and fold in about 1/4-1/2 cup of the cream of your choice (more if you prefer). If your chicken produced a skimpy amount of fat, you can augment it with butter! This makes a gravy everyone will love, and is equally great on mashed potatoes, whole grain rice, biscuits, or anything else you want to serve.

*Note: you can do exactly the same gravy after pan-frying a steak. Simply use the steak drippings, add some extra butter, and use beef broth in place of chicken stock.

See my entry on pasture-raised and truly free-range eggs for more on proper ways to raise a chicken.

Bon appetit!

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