Autumn is my favorite time to get busy in the kitchen. I gain tremendous satisfaction from roasting juicy whole poultry, cracking open enormous pumpkins to turn into pies, whipping together smooth root vegetable purees and peeling apples by the bushel.
Not only is the weather cooler, allowing for more hearty dinner fare, but the return of familiar fall rhythms lend themselves well to meals that require a bit of love – and lengthier cooking times.
For the longest time, roast chicken was the only meat my pre-schooler ate – and that was conditional to it having no skin. As you can imagine, I had time to perfect the art of roasting a whole chicken. I avoid purchasing BBQ chickens from supermarkets and fast food chains if at all possible, for health reasons (especially after seeing Food.Inc.), and instead roast an organic, free-range bird that will nourish the whole family.
Roasting a whole chicken is simple: there are no fancy knife cuts to attempt or finicky prep required to get it in the oven. Still, there are a few tricks to getting the most out of your investment. And if you’ve ever purchased a free-range hen, I think you will agree that it’s an investment.
Perfecting Roast Chicken
The last thing you want to do after spending twenty dollars or more on a local, organic chicken is overcook it. Once the flesh dries out, there is little that can be done for it, so here are some tips to roasting the perfect chicken.
1. Rub some love into it
Before cooking, flavor and moisture can be added to a roast chicken in the form of seasonings and fats. In the recipe below, a mixture of olive oil and fresh herbs are massaged into the bird and the result speaks for itself. If you want an even simpler task, merely rub the entire chicken over with a stick of butter and season with salt and pepper before roasting.
2. Bring it up to room temperature before cooking
Don’t be freaked out but, yes, I am actually suggesting that you leave your bird sitting on the counter before you send it to the oven. Bringing the meat up to room temperature (about 70°F) will both cut down on the cooking time and ensure the fowl cooks evenly. Depending on the size of the bird, it will need to sit out between 1/2 hour to 1-1/2 hours.
3. Don’t rush it
A free-range bird is going to take a little longer to cook than a standard supermarket bird. Why? Because it was actually allowed to move during its lifetime! Its muscles have actually been exercised and are slightly denser, hence a longer cooking time is required. So don’t worry if it’s taking a while, just enjoy the good smells emanating from your stove and watch for the signs that let you know your roast is (almost) ready to be enjoyed.
So how can you tell when your chicken is cooked? Pay attention to the legs and they will tell you everything you need to know:
- Juices run yellow, not pink, when drumstick is pierced.
- The drumstick wiggles freely at the joint when manipulated.
- A meat thermometer registers 170°F when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh (but not touching the bone).
Approximate free-range chicken roasting times (unstuffed)
2½ – 3 lbs – 1 – 1¾ hrs
3½ – 4 lbs – 1½ – 1¾ hrs
4½ – 5 lbs -1½ – 2 hrs
5 – 6 lbs – 1¾ – 2½ hrs
4. Let it rest
Upon it’s exit from the oven, do not transfer the roast chicken directly to its place of honor at the center of the table. Instead, let it rest for at least twenty minutes on a tray that will collect any juices that may accumulate. This will allow the cooking juices to be re-absorbed by the meat, instead of leaking out all over as soon as the chicken is sliced into.
A well-rested roast chicken is a moist roast chicken.
My Favorite Lemon & Oregano Rubbed Roast Chicken
- 1 whole organic chicken, patted dry (about 5 lbs)
- 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh oregano leaves
- Two organic lemons, zested
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 Tablespoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- In a small food processor, combine oregano, lemon zest, lemon juice and garlic. Pulse a few times until it looks like pesto. Add olive oil, salt and pepper and pulse to combine.
- Using your hands, rub lemon-oregano marinade all over chicken. Using your fingers, gently lift the skin on either side of the neck and rub plenty of marinade directly onto the breast meat, under the skin. Don’t forget to get some inside the cavity (where the organs were).
- (optional) Truss your bird if desired. Elise has a helpful step-by-step photo tutorial on how to truss a chicken. Why truss? It’s basically for looks, and brings the legs together nicely. I do not bother to truss my birds, but do admire how the end product of a trussed roast chicken looks. It’s up to you.
- Refrigerate for 2-8 hours to allow the marinade to infuse the meat. Remove from fridge about an hour before cooking.
- Preheat oven to 450°F.
- Place chicken in roasting pan breast side up (I like to use a clay baker for roasting fowl, but unfortunately mine broke during our move last winter!) and place in oven. Roast for ten minutes.
- Reduce heat to 400°F and roast about 1 hour and 45 minutes, checking for doneness after 1 1/4 hours.
- Remove from oven, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let stand 20 minutes before slicing.
Do you have a preferred way to roast chicken?