Roast chicken is a seminal recipe. If you can roast a good chicken, you can cook almost anything. And despite what cooking novices may think, it’s really very easy to do once you get a few basic steps under your belt.
Many cooks think they are too busy. They opt for the convenience of dry, overcooked rotisserie chickens from the supermarket. That’s a shame. They’re missing out on a supremely superior bird. And frankly, I do not think that anyone is too busy to toss a chicken into the oven for 50 minutes.
There’s another roast chicken recipe here, and while it’s plenty good, I’ve become partial to the following method that I can prepare ahead of time, let sit for an hour or so and then enjoy at my leisure, unfettered by fussy or exact timing. (This is obviously not the way to approach a soufflé.)
The trick is to use a very heavy vessel like the one below, remove the chicken from the oven just before it’s fully cooked, place the lid on and let it sit until you’re ready to eat. The heavy cast iron holds residual heat for a long time, allowing the chicken to complete cooking to what I consider to be near perfection.
In the course of learning to make no-knead bread, I came across directions for baking in this Lodge Combo Cooker. It’s a 3-quart Dutch oven with a 10 1/4″ lid that doubles as a skillet. I got mine on Amazon for what I consider to be the nominal price of $34.99. (Remember, these things last forever.)
I’ve since baked fabulous loves of hearth bread in my Lodge cooker, but I’ve also discovered that it’s a real workhorse for all kinds of uses, including and perhaps best of all, roast chicken.
Fussbudgets will complain that old-fashioned cast iron has to be seasoned before use, but Lodge’s new generation of cast iron is pre-seasoned at the factory, so it’s ready to use right out of the box. If you’ve ever seasoned a new cast iron pan, you’ll know that this is a huge convenience.
I like to use a really good quality, free range chicken. Campo Lindo chickens are raised near Kansas City and delivered fresh to several local markets, including Whole Foods. I try to get one close to 4 pounds in size.
Here’s what you do:
1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and place the rack on the bottom third of the oven.
2. Liberally salt the bird inside and out with a tablespoon of kosher salt. (If you’re using regular table salt, use a bit less.) Add some pepper. Place a halved lemon in its tummy and some fresh herbs such as rosemary if you like.
3. Tie its legs together with cooking twine so that the high heat of the oven won’t be able to easily invade the chest cavity and overcook the breast meat.
4. Place the chicken into the pot and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Place uncovered into the oven for 50 minutes. (If your chicken weighs much less than 4 pounds, you may want to remove it at 45 minutes.)
5. Remove the chicken from the oven, place the lid on and allow it to sit for an hour or so undisturbed. It will continue to cook through during that time, but it won’t overcook.
Note: About 15 minutes before removing the chicken, I drizzle it with balsamic vinegar, which gives it a rich brown color as well as a wonderful balsamic flavor. You can skip this step, but if you have balsamic vinegar, try it first. It’s the Italian way!