Contributed by Bryce Lambert There's little that's more essential in a chef's repertoire than a well roasted chicken. It's easy, classic, inexpensive, and feeds a family as well as it feeds diners in a hip bistro. And considering the small amount of effort that goes into it, a neatly trussed chicken presents exceedingly well. But, like turkey at Thanksgiving, it's the sides to a chicken dinner that make it memorable. I have fond childhood memories of Sunday dinners with canned Ocean Spray cranberry sauce, Stove Top stuffing, and those Pillsbury crescent rolls that come in a tube. Ah, how times have changed.
There's a lot of ways to cook a chicken--un-stuffed, stuffed, vertically, horizontally--but roasting the chicken on top of a bed (or natural roasting rack) of vegetables is the only one that leaves you with a delicious side dish of roasted veggies soaked in the chicken's juices. Where stuffing tends to dry out a bird, this makes sure those savory drippings don't go to waste. I used a large Pillivuyt roasting pan from Didriks that's perfectly sized for a few generous helpings of vegetables and a 4-5 lbs. bird. And, when it was time to do the dishes, this porcelain dish was several times easier to wash than several "non-stick" roasting pans I've owned.
A Trip to the Market
This meal really began with a trip to the Cambridge Winter Farmers' Market, Cambridge's greatest wintertime resource for the home cook. Every Saturday between 10am-2pm from January to April, farmers, cheesemongers, fishmongers, and other small vendors gather at the Cambridge Community Center. In these months when the more popular outdoor markets are long closed and grocers like Whole Foods have substantially extended the reach of their supply chains, it's a true pleasure to know that fresh, local produce is so close by. Some of my current favorites include Apex Orchards' delicious apples, Valicenti Organico's fresh ravioli (try the Toasted Cauliflower with Golden Raisins & Grana Padano!), Wolf Meadow Farms' Italian Cheeses (try the fresh milky Primo Sale!), as well as hearty winter root vegetables and braising greens from farms like Red Fire Farm.
I highly suggest you go. Visit cambridgewinterfarmersmarket.com for more information and to see who will be there.
A quick stop at the market left me with celery root, parsnips, turnips, and an earthy rainbow of beautiful potatoes: red, blue, purple, and yellow. Along with an onion and carrot (because they caramelize so deliciously when roasted), I cubed the vegetables and layered them across the bottom of the Pillivuyt roaster. They'll shrink quite a bit, so don't be shy. A little salt and pepper (I use a great course pink Himalayan sea salt that Cambridge Naturals sells in bulk) and a drizzle of olive oil and the vegetable bed is ready for the chicken.
To Truss or Not to Truss
It's not entirely necessary to truss a chicken. Trussing helps slightly in making sure the bird cooks evenly and that the breast doesn't dry out, but since chickens are already so uniform, it's not as necessary as it is with, say, a de-boned leg of lamb. Trussing does make for a good looking bird, so I encourage you to do it. And being handy with kitchen twine and trussing a chicken or tying up a roast is probably the easiest way to impress others in the kitchen.
Crispy Skin & Notes on Olive Oil
What is necessary with a chicken is crispy skin. The easiest way to achieve it by adding some kind of fat; rubbing butter on the outside, spreading butter underneath the skin, or giving the chicken good coat of olive oil before it goes in the oven. I've tried all three over the years and found that olive oil gives the best results with the least effort.
But do use something with flavor. Olive oil is a subject unto itself, but the bottom line is that most of the stuff in large grocery stores is mislabeled, of poor quality, or overpriced. I'm lucky enough to live near Formaggio Kitchen, which sells three types of olive oil in bulk, filling wine bottles upon request from large aluminum casks. I've also heard good things about Boston Olive Oil Company on Newbury Street.
Conventional wisdom, as well as the packaging of most chickens, says to roast it at 350° for 20-25 minutes per pound. I say kick it up it 400° and keep an eye on it. Higher heat will make the skin a little crispier and will cook it faster without really sacrificing moisture. About 20 minutes per pound is a reliable estimate, but cooking times are always inaccurate and I don't know how many times you'll open the door, so just keep a digital meat thermometer handy.
I use and recommend this one, manufactured by Cooper and sold by restaurant supply companies, but most will do and are bound to be better than analog ones or the finicky thermocouples they build into ovens these days. In regards to the safe consumption of poultry, the FDA likes 165°, but a few degrees less is preferable to some.
Let It Rest!
Letting a chicken rest when it comes out of the oven is crucial, no matter how hungry you are. Giving it about 10 minutes tented in tinfoil lets the bird soak back in some of its juices and makes it much easier to carve. It will come up a few degrees in temperature while it rests, so no need to worry if you removed it from the oven when its temperature was just shy of 165°.
Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables
- 1 4-5 lbs. chicken
- Enough root vegetables (like onions, carrots, celery root, parsnips, turnips, and potatoes) to cover the bottom of your pan and make a rack for the chicken
- Preheat oven to 400°.
- Cube vegetables and cut onion into wedges and distribute across the bottom of a roasting pan. They'll shrink, so cut everything a little large. Season with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
- Wash chicken thoroughly, not forgetting to clean out its cavity and truss if desired.
- Set on top of vegetables, rub with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
- Roast for about 20 minutes per pound or until bird reaches 165°
- Remove bird from oven and let rest for about 10 minutes tented with foil.