Ingredient Introduction #6 – Whole Chicken

I’ve always been a chicken when it comes to… chicken.

When I was a teenager, I’d often cook dinner for myself and then leave the leftovers in the fridge for my dad and stepmom who worked crazy hours at their businesses. The fear of killing them (or me) led me to never play with poultry.

It’s just as easy to undercook as it is to overcook. Of course, there’s really not much danger in a bone-dry breast. But, leave just a bit of pink and you could pluck yourself out of the running for being the world’s oldest citizen.

Over the years, I’ve gotten better about it.

Frying boneless breasts is pretty easy. They’re usually done when the crust on both sides is a golden brown.

The easiest way to check the doneness of chicken sans skeleton is to cut a slit into the meat, but then you run the risk of letting all the juices fly the coop.

Bone-in chicken can be a real pain in the tail feathers. It can look done, but then you get to the bone and that area’s still pink.

There’s also the good ol’ thermometer. But, like cutting a slit, the hole from the probe lets all the juices spread their wings and fly.

Patience is key, and so is technique.

I’ll usually sear a boneless breast in a pan then pour in just a bit of wine/broth/citrus juice and throw a lid on it. The meat then steams. Chances of over-cooking are slim, because of all the moisture.

Dark meat is a bit more forgiving. I do legs in the slow cooker with red wine, onion, and garlic. I avoid thighs. The last time I made them we ended up at McDonald’s. P.S. – if you have a good way to try a thigh that gets rid of the slimy texture, pass it on. Not saying I’ll try it, but I might. Okay, I probably won’t, but I’d still like to know your secret.

With all of that said, or (technically) written, I found the giblets to tell my fears to stuff it.

On an impulse, and a really good sales pitch from the man behind the meat counter at The Fresh Market, I bought a WHOLE chicken.

We’re talking 5.5 pounds!

How hard could it be, right? Right!

The Golden Girls made up a song to keep chicken from being a chore, so clearly, I could battle the bird, too – right?

Don’t worry. I didn’t sing. The little sucker probably would’ve gotten up and ran away on the tips of its leg bones.

Anyway, there are two keys to rockin’ a roaster: Crispy skin and juicy meat.

You need moisture to make juicy meat. That’s where my Golden Girls come in, again. You did watch the video, right? You’re gonna stuff this chicken, but not with cornbread or croutons. They SUCK UP the juice. Instead, I salted and peppered the cavity (more flavor), then I added 2 whole bulbs of garlic (cut in half) and three quarters of a lemon.

Just stuff ’em in. I also put in some fresh rosemary and thyme. The garlic and lemon will steam inside the chicken, while doing a flavorful flashdance with the herbs.

After you do that, use kitchen twine to tie the legs close to the breast. That’ll help the bird cook evenly. The dark meat takes longer to cook.

I’m no stranger to skin-on bone-in chicken breasts, and the skin-treatment technique here is no different. You need fat to give the skin a tan that’ll turn heads (and forks). And since this chicken’s going to bake for a while, you need to baste the meat itself.

Here’s what I did:

I made a booby butter by mixing 2 tbs. softened unsalted butter, a big pinch of salt, 2 cloves of grated garlic, a teaspoon of olive oil, and the juice from a quarter of lemon.

Carefully separate the skin (or the built-in bra) from the breasts and massage in the buttery mix. Put the skin back where you found it, and drizzle plenty of olive oil ALL OVER the outside of the chicken.

Then, sprinkle on plenty of coarse salt and ground pepper. If Hawaiian Tropic would market this kind of lotion, I just might sunbathe more. That’s if I could keep the people at Sea World from trying to scout me for their new show.

So to recap:

2 bulbs of garlic, cut in half
3/4 of a lemon, cut into wedges
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 bunch of fresh thyme

Booby Butter:
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tsp. olive oil
Pinch of salt
2 cloves of garlic, grated
1/4 of a lemon, juiced

Skin-Tan Lotion:
Plenty of olive oil
Coarse kosher salt
Ground pepper

Preheat your oven to 425.

Use baby carrots to make a bed in a roasting pan. They’ll keep the chicken from wallowing in its own fat.

Set the chicken on the carrots, then pour in enough white wine (or broth) to make a moat. This will help steam (and flavor) the meat. Again, we’re going for juicy, not petrified.

Pop the pan in the oven and let ‘er go for 1 hour and 25 minutes. This time is for a 5ish-pound chicken.

Every 30 minutes, add a bit more wine to the dish. Don’t worry the alcohol will cook off.

Remove the pan from the oven and put the chicken on a big platter, preferably one with edges. You can use a cookie sheet if you must.

Cover it with foil and let it rest for at least 20 minutes.

I was in a time crunch, so my bird got a power nap.

Stab the thigh meat. The juices should be clear (not a pink or rose color). The drumsticks should wiggle out of their sockets. The bone came right out of one of them. Talkin’ about fallin’ off the bone!
To be safe, stick an instant-read thermometer into the thigh. It should read 165-170.

As I told you, I didn’t let my chicken rest very long, so there wasn’t time for all the juices to redistribute. When I cut into the meat, juice filled the dish. That’s why you need a big platter with edges!

Let the juices stay there.

Go back to your baking dish. Pour in a bit more wine (or broth) to bring up any brown bits that stuck to the bottom. Put the carrots on a plate. They’ll still be firm, but packed with all that chicken-juice goodness. Hello, side dish.

If you want gravy, take the juices (and bits) left in the pan, and put them in a small pan or in a microwaveable bowl. Heat them to a boil (2-3 minutes in the nuker), and then add in a slurry (little bit of corn starch dissolved in a little bit of water). Add 2-3 pinches of salt. Beware, this gravy had a definite wine flare. If you use broth instead of wine, that’ll give you a more traditional sauce.

Just carve up the chicken, by cutting/pulling away the wings, legs, and thighs. Use a knife to slice off each breast. Save the carcass. Did you get that? DON’T THROW AWAY THE BONES.

This was SO easy and SO delicious. I’m not even kidding, and you know how much I like to kid.

The meat was moist, tender and singing the praises of the herbs, garlic, lemon and wine. The skin could give bacon a run for its money. Crispy, salty, and rich.

My partner in cuisine crime and I each had a breast topped with skin. His kids had the legs (their favorite part).

I’m not a dark meat fan, and even I enjoyed what little leg (and thigh, gasp!) meat I could scavenge from the carcass.

This screamed out for mashed potatoes, so that’s what I made for a side. This meal was like eating the feeling you get from the combo of a recliner, a quilt, and a fire place.

My partner in cuisine crime’s youngest daughter yelled out, “It looks like Thanksgiving!”

So, the whole chicken cost about $11. That means for $11, we fed 4 people and had leftovers. And that’s not all – see my tip below.

I will be doing this again, I promise. I might play around with the stuffing choices. How about oranges, limes, pears, or apples? The booby butter can be made with orange juice, crushed garlic, or all herbs.

If you’ve never roasted a whole chicken, please do it. You’ll love it.

Don’t be a… chicken.

Tip: Make your own chicken stock with the carcass I told you not to throw away!

Get out your slow cooker. Dump in the chicken carcass (with the stuffing still in it). Then dump in everything left on the platter. That includes the juices, and any pieces of skin or bone. Then add enough water to completely cover everything. It’ll probably take 10-12 cups.

Add in 3-4 bay leaves, an onion (cut into quarters), 3-4 big pinches of salt, and any fresh herbs you have around (I added a bundle of thyme and a bunch of flat leaf parsley).

Put the lid on, and cook on high for about 30 minutes. Remove the lid, skim off any white foam, put the lid back on and cook for about an hour on LOW.

Skim off any foam, and remove the lemons that were in the cavity. They’ll probably be floating on top by now. If they cook too long, it could give the stock a bitter flavor.

Put the lid back on and cook overnight on LOW.

When you wake up, turn off the slow cooker. After about 30 minutes, strain the liquid. Bam, gorgeous chicken stock!

Put it in the fridge. When you get home, scoop off any fat (it solidifies in the fridge) floating on the top.

Portion out the stock.

You can freeze what you won’t use in the next day or 2.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Mary Lu Saylor says:

    Nice job on this. I had to laugh while you were undressing the chicken. Very tastefully done!

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