Last week I had some friends over to help me eat a chicken that was taking up space in the my freezer. Now, I have to confess, this was not a gourmet bird. This was a standard supermarket “young chicken” and it had been consigned to the reduced bin for quick sale when I bought it at half price. This was a bird that, I’m sure, was not pampered or free-range or any of those other things that are good for the chicken, good for the environment and are supposed to make the meat tastier. Hey, it was cheap! But, I’m here to tell you that if treated properly even this lowly bird can reach heights of deliciousness that you might not think possible without spending a small fortune.
My secret? Brine. Its not just for turkey at Thanksgiving. I’m a huge fan of Alton Brown and he’ll tell you to brine pretty much everything from shrimp to pork. And, after this chicken, I think I may have to start brining more of my meats. Another secret? Butter. Yup, butter. And lots of it. Hey, I said it was delicious, not low-fat!
With a nicely brined bird, lots of butter, and some other aromatic flavor enhancers (lemon, thyme, onion, and celery) you too can have a roast chicken that is worthy of anyone’s nicest table. To prove this point, the chicken was so good-smelling, and so tasty that I forgot to take a picture of it once it came out of the oven! I do have a picture of it, pre-roasting. Imagine it golden brown and delicious. (And see all that butter?!)
serves about 6
- 1 5 lb. young chicken, defrosted and rinsed
- 4 cups water, plus whatever it takes to fully submerge the bird (about 12 cups total)
- 1/2 cup sea salt
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp. whole peppercorns
- 1 tbsp. whole allspice
- 2 tbsp. brown sugar (light or dark)
The evening before you plan to roast the chicken, combine, in a medium saucepan, 4 cups of water with the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, and stir to dissolve the salt. Once the salt is dissolved, stash in the fridge to cool it down. (You wouldn’t want to pour hot water on a raw chicken and then have it sit for eight hours, now would you?) Once your brine is cool, place your chicken in a large nonreactive vessel that will fit in your refrigerator. (I used my largest pot, but anything would work. If you have a larger bird or if nothing will fit in the fridge, you can use a cooler double-lined with garbage bags. However, if you go the cooler route, you’ll need to take steps to keep it cold!) Carefully pour the brine over the chicken and add more water to cover the bird completely. Toss in a handful of ice cubes if you feel like it. Cover the pot, and refrigerate overnight (or 8 – 10 hours).
In the morning, take your chicken out of the brine. Rinse the chicken twice, for 30 seconds each time. Toss the brine. Line a pan with newspaper and cover with a layer of paper towels (or, you could use clean rags instead of the paper goods), and lay your rinsed chicken on the absorbent padding. Return to the fridge, uncovered, until you are ready to roast it.
- 1 5 lb. chicken, brined overnight
- string or twine
- 1 stick butter, softened
- 8 sprigs of fresh thyme, half picked off the stems
- 1 lemon, quartered
- 1 large onion, quartered
- 3-6 celery stalks, leafy bits not trimmed, cut into about 5′ pieces
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
Preheat the oven to 350ºF, and make sure you have a rack in the lower third.
Take your brined bird (you did brine it, right? it’s so worth it!) and rub the cavity with a tablespoon or so of the butter. Stuff half the lemon, a quarter of the onion, and the thyme still on the stem into the cavity of the chicken. Place the bird breast side up in a roasting pan slightly larger than the chicken, tie its legs together with twine, and tuck its wings up under the body. Gently work the skin from the breast and rub about a tablespoon of butter up under the skin of each side. Add some of the thyme leaves up under the breast skin. Rub the whole outside of the chicken with butter and thyme leaves. Scatter the remaining lemon, onion and celery around the chicken. Put the chicken in the oven.
Combine the remaining butter (I had about half a stick), any remaining thyme (about a teaspoon) and the olive oil in a small skillet or saucepan over very low heat. You’ll use this mixture to baste the chicken ever 15 minutes.
While cooking, baste the chicken ever 15 minutes until the internal temperature in the breast reaches 160ºF (you’ll get another 5-10º from carryover heat after you take it out of the oven). For my 5 lb. bird, it took about 90 minutes. If you run out of the basting fat, use the juices accumulated in the bottom of the pan to keep basting.
Remove the chicken from the roasting pan and make the gravy:
- 1 shallot, diced
- 1 tsp. butter or olive oil
- 1 tbsp flour
- pan juices from the roast chicken
- 1 cup chicken stock (I like the organic boxed stuff if I don’t have homemade)
Strain the juices from the roasting pan (be sure to squeeze the juice from the lemon!) into a tall narrow vessel. Let it settle, and de-fat as much of it as possible. If you have a gravy separator, by all means use that!
In a medium saucepan or skillet, heat a little bit of butter or olive oil over med/high. Add the shallot and cook until translucent. Add the flour and cook for another minute to get the rawness from the flour. Pour the pan juices into the shallot and flour mixture. Whisk to combine, making sure there are no lumps. Add the chicken stock, turn the heat the high, and reduce until the gravy coats the back of a spoon.
By this time, you chicken will have rested, so carve away! Serve your roast chicken with plenty of gravy, rosemary garlic roasted potatoes (which you roasted along with the chicken), and a fresh green salad.