What should I make for dinner? The question we ask ourselves all the time. Why is it usually such a major decision? I start with ingredients … let’s see what I have to work with. I went to the grocery store yesterday, so the refrigerator is stocked, and I know I have a whole chicken to work with. Ah, that will make the house smell wonderful and be welcoming when my husband comes home from work. There are so many ways to cook chicken. I can cut it apart and make a stew. I can butterfly it and grill it. Or I can leave it whole and have leftovers to use tomorrow. Yep, that’s what I’ll do! The ease of roasting a chicken and the beauty of the golden brown crispy skin is calling to me today. I struggled for years trying to figure out what the secret was to the perfect roast chicken. Sometimes it was underdone, but most of the time, even though it looked perfect, it was dry and tough. Arrrggghhh!
So I sat down and read all the recipes I could get my hands on, researched techniques on the Internet, and called friends who are good cooks. The answers were as varied as the sources. There was no consistent method. It was time to make one for myself.
I think there are two main components that make a huge difference in the final dish, seasoning and aromatics. You don’t have to use a lot of different seasonings, but you must use enough salt and pepper to be effective. One of the main differences between home cooks and restaurant chefs is the amount of seasoning they use. I know, you’re going to tell me that you have to watch your sodium levels. I understand. But the primary source of the sodium we consume these days is from processed foods. When you are cooking from scratch, you can use a more liberal hand because there isn’t any hidden salt. So put away that fear and let’s have some fun!
Aromatics are ingredients that “perfume” a dish, adding layers of flavor, and every cuisine has their favorites. In France they call their combination mirepoix, which is a blend of chopped onions, celery, and carrots. In the American South their chopped onions, celery, and bell pepper are known as the “Holy Trinity.” Italian soffrito typically has celery, onions, garlic, herbs, and green peppers. For this chicken I like the simplicity of salt, pepper, onions, garlic, and lemons. When aromatics are stuffed inside the roasting chicken, they flavor the meat from the inside out. You can also add fresh herbs if you like. My favorites are rosemary and thyme, but they aren’t necessary. The timing for this recipe will vary depending on the size of chicken you are cooking, but the final temperature will always be the same. If you don’t already have one, go out and buy an instant-read thermometer. It is the secret to moist and tender chicken!
- Cooking the bird upside down ensures a tender and moist breast. Turning it right side up for the final roasting crisps the skin and gives you the impressive golden chicken that makes everyone think you are a master cook.1 (3 to 4 lb) whole chicken, cleaned, rinsed, and patted dry
- 1 medium onion and 2 large onions, peeled
- Salt and pepper
- 2 lemons, rinsed
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- Olive oil
- Onion Powder, optional
- 1/2 cup dry vermouth, dry white wine or water
- 1/4 cup chicken stock or water
- Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
- Cut the ends off the large onions and slice horizontally into 1/2-inch thick slices. Place slices in an even layer on the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking pan, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Cut remaining medium onion and one lemon into quarters. Place inside cavity of the chicken along with the garlic cloves. Set chicken on the layer of onions, breast side down. Rub with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a little onion powder. Pour vermouth and stock in pan and carefully transfer to the hot oven.
- Roast chicken for 20 minutes and reduce oven to 350ºF. Continue cooking for another 20 minutes. Remove chicken from oven and very carefully turn it breast-side up. Sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper and return to oven. Add more stock or wine if the pan is dry. Cook for another 30 minutes or until thermometer inserted in the breast (but not touching bone) registers 160ºF. If you don’t have a thermometer, wiggle the leg, it should feel loose in the socket. Pierce the thigh and look at the color of the juices, they should be clear, not pink. The total cooking time will be about 1 hour 15 minutes.
- When chicken is done, remove from oven and transfer to a cutting board. Let rest for at least 15 minutes, lightly tented with foil, to allow juices to be reabsorbed by the meat. Remove onions, lemons, and garlic from cavity and discard. Transfer onions from roasting pan to center of a warmed platter.
- Cut the chicken into quarters and place around onions. Garnish platter with remaining lemon, either quartered or sliced. If you have some fresh herbs add them to the platter. Serve immediately, passing the pan juices at the table if desired.
- Yield: about 4 to 6 servings