Roast chicken is one of the most eternally beloved dishes on planet earth. It evokes warmth, comfort, full flavor, cozy dinners with family and friends. It is easy to think it was always so, way back two million years ago when fire was discovered; logic imagines that not long after the discovery, something yummy was roasting over the flames, bringing warmth and flavor to the hearth.
Today the French are the maestros of roast chicken, from market cooks who baste their birds on the spit, stirring the potatoes and onions below that are bathed with savory juices, to starred chefs who sear, season, and serve exquisite renditions which have been carefully roasted over flame or in an oven.
A gorgeous roast chicken – or any sort of poultry – is easy to produce, the French way. Let’s get started.
Basically, you need two things: the best chicken (from a local farm…) and a good, hot oven.
Make sure your bird is at room temperature so it will roast more easily than if it were cold. Don’t worry! A bird will not putrefy by being left at room temperature for an hour or two!
You can simply salt and pepper the cavity of the bird, truss it so it roasts evenly, and put it in a hot oven. But, there are some fine point which will make it even better. I like to season between the skin and the meat to add subtle flavor. To do this, loosen the skin carefully, making sure your sharp fingernails or even a finger don’t poke through, and gently push your fingers all along the breast meat and onto the legs and thighs. If you want to add richness, rub softened butter, olive oil, coconut oil, goose or duck fat all over the meat. Then, slide in some fresh herbs or other seasonings., and pat the skin back onto the meat.
Remove the giblets from the bird, then season the cavity with salt and pepper. Return the giblets, add a quartered lemon, a half an orange or lime, a couple of bay leaves. Tie up the chicken so the legs and the wings hug the carcass.
Set the bird in a pan (if you have a roasting rack, use it), and pour water or wine around the bird to a depth of about 1-1/2 inches (3.75cm).
Place the bird on the center rack of a very hot oven and roast it for an hour. You can turn it on each side for 15 minutes if you like, and you can even turn it upside down for 15 minutes, then right it for the final 15 minutes. Ten minutes before you remove the bird from the oven, pour 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar over it.
When the chicken is golden and crisp, remove it from the oven, transfer it to a cutting board that catches juices, setting it upside down. Leave it for from 20 to 40 minutes. Carve, serve, enjoy!
Tips: You do not have to pour liquid around the bird, but it helps if you want yummy juices to pour over it. You can also surround the bird with quartered onions and potatoes, carrots, halved shallots, a few bay leaves. Season these. OR, if you’ve got day old but otherwise delicious bread, cut it in 2-inch (5cm) chunks, rub each chunk with garlic and put around the chicken halfway through roasting.
Particularly delicious herbs for poultry: fresh bay leaves, tarragon, sage, savory, basil leaves
For a 4 pound (2kg) bird in a 450F oven, 1 hour is the ideal time. Turning the bird is ideal, but not vital. Nor is the vinegar at the end, though it assures a crisp exterior and it brightens up the juices.
When you’ve finished caring, remove the citrus from the cavity and squeeze it over the bird, using tongs so you don’t burn your hands. Remember the giblets! There is always someone at the table who loves them.