Ode to the Roasted Chicken

I’ve been thinking about Julia Child lately. It began when I was perusing my cookbook library and on a whim, began looking at some of Julia Child’s cookbooks. As it happened, a few days before, I tuned into my local public television station and watched old episodes of ‘The French Chef’ and smiled at the sight of Julia Child preparing a chicken for roasting on a spit. It made me realize just how much I learned from her AND just how much I love a good roasted chicken. It was marvelous to watch her truss the chicken, bard it with salt pork and place it on the spit. And then to watch her carve the bird made me salivate.

I believe as Julia Child and most professional cooks do, that a test of a good cook is how well they roast a chicken. Next to making rice and scrambled eggs, roasting a chicken was one of the things I learned to master as a kid. I learned how to roast a chicken from my mother, who learned from her 1976 copy of Joy of Cooking. A roasted chicken on weekends was one of my best childhood memories. And like everything else I cook in my house, my roast chicken varies each time I make it. There ARE however a few key techniques that I employ when preparing the bird. From Julia Child, I learned to remove the wishbone (to make carving of the breast easier) and massage soft butter on the chicken before roasting; sometimes I may just put a flavored butter under the skin and I may also stuff the cavity with herbs and lemons. My techniques for cooking it vary too- I have roasted a chicken in every kind of vessel- a roasting pan, a large preheated saute pan, a sheet pan. Sometimes I start off with a very hot oven to crisp the skin and reduce the temperature to cook the rest of the bird. Sometimes I’ll flip the bird (yep, I it!) over so that it can cook on the other side. It all depends on my mood.  I have never been terribly faithful about a specific cook time or a cooking vessel with which  to roast a bird. And that’s good news for all of us- it’s hard to mess up a basic and elemental food like roasted chicken. So, every few weeks I make a  roasted chicken at home and go about setting off the smoke alarm. I steal a piece of crispy skin and nibble on it while I make a simple sauce from the pan drippings and the brown bits left on the roasting pan, or the fond. I carve the bird and bath it in the pan sauce and we have a happy feast. I never tire of cooking it or eating it.

Now, when I don’t have the time or energy to roast a chicken, I bring home a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket. Before it gets to the table, I give in to temptation and devour a piece of the crispy skin and maybe dip a piece of bread in the pan juices. I serve the chicken with a varying number of sides like rice, potato salad, tabbouleh or crusty bread and some kind of crunchy tart green salad. It’s such a perfect foil for so many things and the leftovers are equally versatile. If we have leftovers, it becomes part of a chicken sandwich, a pasta bake or tossed into a chopped salad. And let’s not forget the carcass! My husband knows that we NEVER throw away the carcass- sometimes it serves as a meal for me but more often it makes its way into the pot for a small batch of chicken stock.

Now, when I don’t have time to roast a chicken, I rely on my grocery store deli and take home a Rotisserie Chicken. Rotisserie chicken is a fantastic ‘convenience’ food. It helps start so many different types of meals. The possibilities could fill this page. And I don’t limit myself to chickens of the rotisserie variety- I discovered our local Mexican market does grilled chicken dressed with lime and cumin; the Asian market does a great roasted chicken with soy sauce and honey, plus they cut the chicken for you as as well. So while a home roasted chicken is a beautiful thing, a rotisserie chicken from the market (ANY market) is equally wonderful for any dinner table. So are you a roasted chicken fan like me?


Barbara-Lee Doyle

Posted April 05, 2013

Yes, makes great enchiladas, wraps, broth from bones and skin, several types of salad and etc.

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