I’ve been in a Wednesday chicken habit for a while, because that is the day the rotisserie chicken truck parks at the grocery store just off the traffic circle on my way home from work. However, two weeks ago, the chicken lady sold the last one just as I was walking up to the window, and this past week was really busy and the truck was long gone before I ever thought about leaving work. I’ve been hungry for some good chicken enchiladas, so I decided to roast my own chickens this weekend (plus, when I read about Kara’s less-than-full-flavored chicken soup, I thought to myself, “I can help out with that!”). The roasted chicken was easy, and the result was so delicious I don’t know if the chicken truck lady will ever see me again.
Many years before brining became trendy, I remember my brother-in-law telling me about a nice lady who came into his office in Portland, Oregon, and told him the secret to moist, juicy fried chicken. I’m sure she was there on other business, but somehow the topic of chicken came up, and she said to soak the chicken in salt water for a couple of hours (refrigerated). I’ve followed the advice ever since whenever I make chicken. Sometimes I add other seasonings, but this time it was simply a tablespoon of kosher salt dissolved in a cup of boiling water, with cold water added until it was deep enough to cover the chicken. I was making two chickens, so I used my 6-quart stainless steel pan, and they fit in just right.
My standard go-to reference cookbook is the yellow-covered Good Housekeeping Cookbook that Janessa gave me one year for Mother’s Day. I picked the herbed roasted chicken recipe and made a few small modifications – I used less butter, and I substituted sage for the chives or tarragon in the original recipe. I’ve made quite a few roasted chickens in the past, but this was the first time I tried lifting up the skin and stuffing anything between the skin and the meat. It was the best roasted chicken I’ve ever eaten – I don’t know if it was that technique, or if I simply had really good chickens. The choices in the store were fresh corn-fed organic chickens from France or frozen who-knows-what-fed chickens from the chicken factory in Arkansas, and I went with fresh because they were nice and plump and I wanted to make them that same day. Since I mentioned the chickens’ diets, here’s a random piece of culinary trivia: in Mexico, chicken meat is quite yellow, and Mexicans think pale American chickens are flavorless. The yellow color isn’t because the chickens themselves are a different breed, but Mexican chicken feed contains marigold petals, and that gives the chickens a nice yellow color.
Perfect Roasted Chicken
If the chicken is frozen, thaw it in the refrigerator. Then wash it thoroughly, especially the insides, and cover with a light salt solution (about a tablespoon per 2 quarts water) and refrigerate for several hours. You can boil a little water and then mix in the salt to hasten dissolving, and you can also steep a spoonful of peppercorns and fresh or dried herbs of your choice in the salt water. I sometimes include a big handful of thyme or rosemary sprigs, but this time I went with plain salt and water.
When you are ready to roast the chicken, put it in a greased deep baking dish. I don’t use a rack, and I think letting the chicken sit in the juices during roasting results in moister thigh meat. Cut thin slices of butter, and lift the skin from the breast meat, using a big spoon to reach clear in. You can also use a knife to cut through the part where it will stay attached along the center line of the breast. Use the spoon to hold the skin up and slip slices of butter in between (I used about ¾ cup butter for two chickens). Then slip in whole sage leaves, or an alternative to the butter slices and whole sage would be to mix dried sage or other herbs of your choice with softened butter and then spread the mixture on the meat with a slim rubber or silicon spatula. I used six sage leaves per chicken, and next time I will use 10-12.
Roast the chicken in a hot oven (I did mine at 200 C. on the heissluft or hot air setting, about 400 F., and a regular oven will work just as well). When juices start to run, spoon some over the top of the chicken a couple of times during roasting, and that’s all there is to it. Depending on how big the chicken is (and if you are making two, how crowded they are in the baking dish), it will probably take an hour and a half to two hours. You will be able to tell the chicken is done when you see that the drippings inside the cavity have turned completely brown with no red tinge. I was a little concerned that crowding the chickens in the pan like I did would affect the final results, but my oven, though very high-tech, is very, very small and stuffing the chickens in the 9 X 13 pan was the only way I could do two at once (speaking of my oven, anyone know why I might use the infrarot fläschengrill or turbo raumgrill settings?). And speaking of stuffing, I didn’t, but I think it would be really good and might try that next time (if you do, it will take a little longer to get done).
After you take the chicken out of the oven, let it rest for 10 minutes before carving. Depending on how many people you are feeding, even one chicken will probably provide several meals and give you the basis for a flavorful stock. The secret to the stock is the bones, so if you are serving some of the chicken for a meal, cut the meat away from the bones rather than plating up the hindquarters with the bones in.
If you want to make gravy, pour about a cup of the pan drippings into a saucepan and whisk in a heaping tablespoon of instant-blend flour (Wondra or other brand). Bring to a boil while whisking and season to taste.
Perfect Full-Flavored Chicken Stock and Diced Chicken for Recipes
As soon as you finish your roasted chicken dinner, pull all of the remaining meat off the bones (there will be a lot along the backbone, in the wings, and on the ribs, etc. – it comes off the bones much more easily if you do it right away rather than putting the whole remaining chicken in the fridge first).
Cover and refrigerate the meat for later (easier to dice after it is chilled) and put the bones, all of the skin, and the remaining pan juices in a slow cooker or large pot with a lid (at least 3 quart capacity). Add flavor-boosters such as a teaspoon of whole peppercorns, a big shake of dried parsley, a teaspoon of dried marjoram and/or dried or fresh thyme, a quartered onion, one or more carrots (slice or cut lengthwise), and one or more ribs of celery (leaves too if they are still attached). I’m not wild about bay leaves in chicken dishes, but go for it if you like it. Sometimes I add a sliced potato, but I didn’t this time. Acting on a tip from Janessa’s husband, I also included the onionskin to deepen the color even more. I had a red onion, but yellow onionskins were a traditional dyestuff for centuries – they’ll give a nice color too.
Add enough boiling water to cover everything, then put the lid on and cook for a long time. I use my slow cooker on low and leave it overnight; if you are using the stove let it simmer at least three hours.
To strain the stock, suspend a fine-meshed strainer over a deep bowl. Remove the vegetable pieces from the stock to a small bowl, and strain the bones/skin a few spoons full at a time, pressing gently with the back of the spoon to extract all of the juice.
Discard the bones and pour the stock through the strainer (you might want to put the bowl/strainer in the sink). Cover the stock with plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours, until the layer of fat has thickened enough that it can easily be spooned off. Puree the vegetables and refrigerate until the stock is chilled.
I ended up with about six cups of stock and a cup of fat. Since a lot of the fat was butter, I decided to keep it for chicken recipes that call for butter. If you want to keep the “chicken butter,” spoon it into a re-sealable bag, label, and freeze.
To prepare the chicken for recipes, dice to the size you want and put it in a bowl. Mix in about a half cup of stock, or enough to lightly coat the meat. At this point you can refrigerate it if you will use it in a day or two, or freeze for future use. Sometimes I divide it into recipe-size portions before freezing, but this time I put it all in a gallon-size bag and shook up the bag a couple of times while it was freezing to keep the chicken cubes somewhat separated. We ate about half of one chicken for dinner, and the remaining chicken and a half yielded around six cups of diced chicken.
This last step in making the stock is where some of the extra flavor comes from: stir in the pureed vegetables. Mix well and then use a one-cup spouted measuring cup or ladle to pour the stock into freezer bags. I didn’t add any extra salt, since I prefer to do that when I am using it in a recipe, and speaking of recipes, this stock is quite concentrated, but you can wait to add water when you are using the stock so it doesn’t take up extra room in the freezer. That’s it, and it so much better than the canned or boxed variety – even if you are starting with a deli chicken instead of roasting your own, follow these steps and you will have delicious flavorful homemade chicken stock.
I know I’ve mentioned them in a couple of posts now – enchilada recipe coming soon!