There are few things more satisfying than roasting a whole chicken. The techniques are simple, it looks impressive, and it makes enough food to enjoy leftovers. Typically I stick to using fresh herbs, like thyme, mixed with butter and garlic. This time I chose a recipe with a more Middle Eastern flair, just to mix things up.
Roasting a chicken for our Sunday dinner also gave me a chance to practice some tips I learned in my second class at Portland’s Culinary Workshop, Principles of Cooking. The class was pretty basic—we focused on standard food preparation methods like roasting, sautéing, and pan frying—but it made me realize how many basic techniques I’ve taught myself over the years that, as it turns out, are not the most efficient or effective.
Susana, the instructor, had some pretty straightforward tips. First of all, you want layers of flavor. That means dried herbs and spices on the outside of the chicken, fresh herbed-butter underneath the skin. I don’t know about you, but I’ve tried to put room temperature butter on a raw chicken before and it won’t stick. Susana had a solution—separate the skin from the breast meet with your finger, working slowly to make sure you don’t tear the skin. Then take a spoonful of herbed butter and slide it under the edge of the skin. Hold the skin down and run your finger on top of the skin to spread the butter across the breast. My hands weren’t covered in butter, but the chicken was. Success! Although the recipe doesn’t call for butter, a couple of tablespoons helped to keep the white breast meat moist. Cilantro and parsley are herbs that compliment the other flavors in this recipe, if you want to herb up your butter.
I made the spice mixture using smoked paprika and substituting grape seed oil for olive oil. I learned in class that olive oil has a low smoking point—it can start breaking down at about 320 degrees. Grape seed oil has a smoke point at 420 degrees, making it a better fit for roasting. After rubbing the bird inside and out with the spice mixture, I trussed it and put it in the oven.
Trussing is something I rarely bother with because it seems like such a fuss. Susana made it look easy. I did have one mishap trying it at home—don’t try to truss on the roasting rack. The bird needs to be sitting on a flat surface before you tie it up. If still asking yourself “to truss, or not to truss?” I recommend reading this article on trussing. Susana explained that trussing makes the bird more compact, which helps it cook evenly. Her final tip was to take the chicken out a couple of degrees before it hits that 165-done mark. It keeps cooking after it’s out of the oven, so if you take it out at 165 you could end up with an overdone bird. You’ll notice the recipe says to roast it to 175—that is a terrible idea. Please don’t do that or you just did all that work for a dry, overdone chicken.
The recipe casually mentions that you can roast butternut squash in the pan to make a meal out of it. This is a fantastic idea! I added the squash after the first hour, just before coating the chicken in lemon juice.
Because it was Sunday and the chicken needed to roast for two hours, I had time to make a fun green vegetable side. I chose Brussels Sprouts and Leeks with Lime-Ginger butter from this month’s Fine Cooking magazine. The lime and ginger made the final flavor bright, so that the butter just added some creaminess without making it heavy. This recipe also gave me the opportunity to use another one of Susana’s tricks—peeling fresh ginger with a spoon. I can’t explain it—just try it. You will thank me!
And finally, here are some photos of the final dish.
If you’re getting excited about the holidays, gffriendly will be here to provide tips and inspiration!
Roast Chicken with Cumin, Paprika, and Allspice via Epicurious
Bon Appetite February 2000
Brussels Sprouts and Leeks with Lime-Ginger Butter by Fine Cooking Dec/Jan 2014