Judith Klinger with a classic dish that usually lasts a lot longer than just one meal.
Text And Photo By Judith Klinger
A dark golden brown chicken in the oven, the juices sizzling in the pan, the aroma filling the house, comforts me. How could something that takes so little prep time create a dinner that is so satisfying while creating superb possibilities for leftovers?
A roast chicken dinner may be a simple, homely dinner but who can resist crackling, salty skin that lifts away to reveal the tender, juicy meat? It’s a perfect one pot dinner with roasted vegetables serving as a bed for the chicken, soaking up all the flavor.
If you roast a big enough bird so you have leftovers, there is the possibility of chicken shepherd’s pie, or a curried chicken salad. Even the bones have flavor to offer when you make stock. Then you can make soup or risotto, and one roast chicken truly becomes the the dinner that keeps on giving.
First things first, the chicken must be roasted. The recipe here is a traditional Umbrian way of seasoning, but every ethnic style of cooking has its own beauty and pleasures.
- 1 whole chicken, about 3 lb (1.3kg)
- 1 scant tablespoon (20g) sea salt
- 1 teaspoon (2g) finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon (2g) fennel seed or fennel pollen
- 1 small lemon
- 1-2 medium cloves of garlic, with skin on.
- Preheat oven to 350F/180C
- Combine salt, rosemary and fennel in a small bowl
- Rinse the chicken under cold running water, inside and out. Shake dry.
- Pierce the lemon with a knife.
- Insert the lemon and garlic into the cavity of the chicken.
- Place the chicken in a roasting pan and rub the bird with salt/seasoning mixture.
- Roast until juices run clear and the temperature take at the thigh reaches 160F/71C
A note of fennel seed or fennel pollen: Fennel is a traditional seasoning for roast meats in central Italy. Wild fennel pollen is easily foraged as fennel grows everywhere there is a bit of shade and water. Fennel pollen can be prohibitively expensive if purchased outside of Italy. An acceptable substitute is ground fennel seed. Buy fennel seed and grind it a spice grinder or blender, keep it in a sealed jar, just as you would any other spice. Try using it along with bay leaf in a stew or soup, it’s a little bit of kitchen magic.
I don’t truss the chicken because I find it cooks unevenly at the thigh and leg area.
Root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, onions, parsnips, celery root are all delicious with a roast chicken. The vegetables will get a bit brown and caramelized, but be soft and full of flavor on the inside.
Roughly chop your vegetables. In a bowl big enough to hold the vegetables, add a small bit of olive oil, enough to coat the vegetables, a sprinkle of salt, pepper and fennel seed. Toss the vegetables in the bowl, evenly coating them with the salt, herbs and oil, and then arrange them around the bird.
Put the dish into the oven and go find something to do for an hour, because your kitchen prep work is done. Play with the cat, set the table, have an aperitivo with your partner, relax and enjoy, knowing you have a great dinner coming.
To tell if your chicken is done: tilt the chicken in the pan, the juices should run clear, not bloody. Use a probe type thermometer and insert it into the thigh, around 160F/71C is the recommended temperature.
When it’s time to serve the chicken, remove it from the oven and waft it under the noses of your dinner companions. The smell and sight of that beautifully browned bird will set the mood for the feast that is about to happen.
To serve: Remove all the vegetables and arrange on a warm plate. Remove the lemon and garlic from the chicken cavity and discard. Take a pair of strong kitchen scissors and cut the chicken into pieces, starting by removing the legs, then the thighs, cut up the chest side and the backbone, cutting the chicken in half. Finally cut the halves into smaller pieces. Take care to keep as much of the skin intact and out of the juice as possible, as you want the skin to stay crispy. If you feel like it, pour the pan juices into a separate bowl, skim any excess grease, and serve along with the chicken. A crisp green salad, and a chilled white wine would be perfect with your dinner.
For the leftovers: remove the chicken meat from the bone and refrigerate. If you are not making stock from the bones right away, freeze the bones until you are ready to use them.
For a rub variation: oregano, chili powder, smoked paprika and salt. Stuff the chicken with a small orange instead of the lemon.