Sine Qua Non

Really, there isn’t anything in the world better than a roasted whole chicken.  I don’t have anything exciting and pithy to say about it, no scintillating adjectives to fling around–roast chicken is simply the best. 

Every Sunday, I tend to make enough of something to feed myself for an entire week.  I prize my evenings hours too much to spend them making a new and different lunch every night, but (though I do nearly always insist on a homemade lunch) I don’t want to eat unending tuna salad (or some analog) out of a tiny tupperware.  Thus, I make a big meal of “real” food on Sunday night, then portion it out to last me the rest of the week. 

Most Sundays I make a stew or a casserole and eat it, unaltered, for both Sunday dinner and my week’s worth of lunches.  This weekend, though, fooled by the piercingly sunny weather into believing that spring was truly, finally here, I developed a craving for a multi-colored, multi-vegetabled salad with ancillary protein of some kind.  After cataloging the contents of my produce drawer (too many carrots! an enormous cucumber! some of those utterly cool Easter egg radishes!), I decided that chicken would be the best match.  My inner glutton immediately siezed upon the idea and hissed “Roast chicken for dinner.”

Tearing myself from my shaded spot on the back patio, I reconnoitered the grocery store and returned with two three-pound frying chickens.  Note: I said frying chickens.  I far prefer to roast two smaller birds than one large ‘roasting’ chicken, with its oversized breast (which always overcooks) and undersized everything-else.  Two small chickens cook in less time than one large one, and give the cook a much greater proportion of thighs, drumsticks, oysters and crispy skin.

My mother has roasted large chickens (or, more often, at least in my memory, capons) for my entire life, but the first time I ever made one myself I was living alone, almost one thousand miles away.  I scrounged around online, and almost immediately found a recipe by Julia Child for ‘Perfect’ Roast Chicken that called for a three to three and a half pound bird.  Accordingly, I went out and bought just such a one, and as instructed, roasted it for 15 minutes at 425, then turned it down to 350 for one hour.  

I was thrilled with the result–bronzed, shatteringly crisp skin, breast meat that was moist and thigh meat that was completely cooked through.  Faced with such a triumph in spite of my inexperience, I have almost never deviated from this roasting method, and when I do, I am inevitably disappointed: the breast meat dries out, the juices run bloody, the skin stays limp and palid. 

It is a fact, though, that every meat-eating cook I know is almost evangelical about their own personal chicken-roasting method.  My mother, for instance, does not cotton to the short blast of 425-degree heat at the beginning of roasting, saying that it makes the fat spatter all over the inside of her oven.  She prefers to roast her (usually larger) chickens at 350 for the entirety of their sojourn; she gets good results, but I cannot replicate them.

For these specific chickens, I did nothing unusual.  I plunked them in a cooking-sprayed jelly roll pan, deployed my crisp-skin insurance policy (that is, I scrunched my fingers under the skin on the breasts and thighs, separating it from the flesh and letting a little air inside), sprinkled it with salt and various dried citrus peels, and put it in the oven.  I spent fifteen minutes preparing the side dish for dinner that night, turned down the oven, and returned to the back patio and my book.

Teacherman got back from Cleveland just as I took the pan out of the oven and was torn between attacking it as it stood, or taking a quick shower while it cooled slightly.  He opted for the shower, poor thing.  By the time he got out, only five minutes later, the chickens were entirely denuded of skin.  I have no defense against the charge of eating two chickens-worth of skin.  Luckily, he loves me anyway.

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Published in: on April 23, 2007 at 7:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

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