Fall Feast, Part II – Herb Roasted Chicken

More signs of Fall.  The light slants differently in the morning and the evening.  The days are getting shorter.  Cooler weather prompted me to search through my closet for sweaters and long-sleeved shirts I had almost forgotten.  Candy corn tempts me at the supermarket and I roasted my first chickens in over six months.

For my inaugural chickens,  I adapted a recipe from Anne Burrell.  Initially, I found Anne’s personal style a little off-putting, but she has grown on me.  Matters of style aside, her food is relaxed and delicious and I’ve picked up a lot of good tips from her show, Secrets of a Restaurant Chef.  The only change I made to her recipe and technique was the addition of additional spices and garlic and the use of the food processor to make the rub.  Chicken on it’s own is pretty bland.  However, it is also resembles a blank canvas, you make it what you want it to be.

If you have never roasted a chicken, there are many ways to do it and most of them are pretty simple.  Chicken is also very economical.  Two roast chickens can be prepared in 15 minutes plus cook time for about $12-15 and under normal circumstances the leftovers last for days.  Unfortunately, this story ends with a small leftover tragedy, but stay tuned.

Here are the ingredients:

  • 8 sprigs rosemary, picked and roughly chopped, about 3 tablespoons
  • 20 sage leaves, picked and roughly chopped, about 2 tablespoons
  • 5 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 2 (3 to 3 1/2-pound) whole chickens
  • 3-4 tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 1 large or 2 small onions, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 large or 2 small carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 bundle thyme, about 10 sprigs tied together with string
  • 4 cups rich chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
  • SPECIAL EQUIPMENT:  Kitchen Twine, Meat Thermometer, Roasting Pan

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

In a food processor, combine the chopped rosemary, sage, garlic, red pepper flakes, olive oil and 2 tablespoons kosher salt.  NOTE:  Maybe you know this already, but just in case…To remove the leaves from the rosemary, just slide your fingers along the stem to pop them off.  Don’t chop the stem.

Process until it becomes a wet rough paste, a couple of minutes.

I know people who will find the next step distasteful, but this is the key to making this chicken flavorful.  Ring’s off ladies! Using your fingertips carefully work your way under the skin of the chickens to separate the skin from the breast to develop a pocket.  Rub the herb paste under the skin of both chickens.  I recommend that you do this before you put the chicken in the pan and try not to rip the skin like I did.  Use all of the paste and distribute evenly.  See the herbs under the skin?

Click here for Anne’s demonstration of how to truss the chickens.  Be sure to truss before the next step.  I forgot and had to truss them in the pan which was really slippery.

Drizzle each chicken with more olive oil and massage the skin.  In theory, this will result in a nice brown crispy skin.  Sprinkle each chicken generously with one more tablespoon salt.

Place the diced veggies, bay leaves and thyme bundle in a roasting pan large enough to accommodate the 2 chickens without touching.  Add 2 cups of chicken stock.

Arrange the chickens on top of the veggies in the roasting pan and place in the preheated oven.

Check the chickens about 15 minutes into the cooking process, the skin should be starting to brown. Lower the heat to 375 degrees F and continue roasting. After another 15 minutes, remove the chickens from the oven and turn over. At this point check the level of liquid in the roasting pan. If most of the liquid has evaporated, add another cup of stock and return the chickens to the oven. When the chickens have browned on the bottom, about 15 minutes, remove them from the oven and turn them back over. Return the chickens to the oven for the final 15 minutes of cooking. During this time the skin on the chickens SHOULD be very brown and crispy.  Mine wasn’t quite as brown as I would like.  My oven has issues with heat retention and I suspect that it wasn’t as hot as it should have been the whole time.  However, a thermometer inserted in the crease between the thigh and the breast registered 165, so I removed them so they wouldn’t get dry.

NOTE ON CHICKEN TEMPERATURE:  When inserting a thermometer into your chicken, be sure not to have the probe touch a bone or you will get an inaccurate reading.  The thermometer should read between 160 and 170 degrees F.  According to Anne, when cooking poultry, the rule is 17 minutes per pound. If the thermometer reads less than 160 degrees F return the chicken to the oven for an additional 10 minutes and then re-check the temperature.

When chickens have reached the proper temp remove them from the roasting pan, place them on a platter.  Cover loosely with foil. Let sit for at least 10 to 15 minutes before carving.

After the chickens have been removed from the roasting pan, skim off the excess fat from the surface of the liquid. The easiest way to do this is to prop up one end of the pan and allow the fat to run to the other end of the pan.  If you don’t get all the fat, it’s no disaster.

Put the roasting pan on a burner, add the wine, bring to a medium heat and reduce by half.

Add the remaining chicken stock and taste.  Add salt if needed.

Boil for another minute or so and then pour the contents of the pan through a strainer and collect the juices.  They make a delicious sauce to accompany the chicken.

Serve with something starchy like Sausage Cornbread Stuffing and something green and you’ve got a classic American meal.  One you will want to make often.

SMALL LEFTOVER TRAGEDY:  One of my chickens turned into a delicious meal for my husband and two daughters.  Despite putting the other chicken on a platter at the back of the stove where I thought it was safe, the other was fished off the counter by my German Shepherd, Freya.  Sorry, no photo of that.

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