Saturday, November 20, 2010

My First Roast Chicken

When I decided two weeks ago that I just had to roast a chicken, Alex and I had a long discussion about whose method to use. It came down to the big hitters: Martha Stewart and Laurie Colwin. In my favorite cookbook, Great Food Fast, Martha’s team lays out the high temperature/short time approach that I think most people (not in our family, mind—Mother makes dinner with her credit card) are familiar with. Laurie Colwin’s roast chicken “recipe” advocates for the chicken’s right to low and slow cooking. Although this may sound like a dry mess to those in the know, Laurie assures us that this chicken is tender and moist. Alex falls off the bone for meat that falls off the bone, so we decided to trust Laurie.

If only we hadn’t trusted our oven.

Sunday lunch is traditionally a meal we have in the late afternoon as we’ve no doubt had a large, late brunch. I like to use my extra time to try new things, serving up dishes like chicken pot-pie, mussels over linguine, and mushroom lasagna. And now I can add roast chicken to that list—well, whole chicken, in any case.

Since it didn’t seem likely that Alex and I would eat the entire chicken, we invited the Moms to join us for a Sunday feast.
At 1 pm I put my beautiful Gunthorp Farms chicken—which had been stuffed with lemon, surrounded by garlic cloves, and sprinkled with paprika, as per Laurie’s bequest—into a 300-degree oven, where it would cook for two hours. According to Laurie, “The chicken is done when the leg bone wiggles and the skin is the color of teak.” Super.

Laurie wanted me to baste my chicken every 15 minutes, which wouldn’t have been a problem, except that my chicken released no liquid for the first half hour it was in the oven. Was I supposed to add stock to the chicken pan? I wondered. Is that a common practice that people just know? I was so desperate I called my mother. I know. She told me not to fret, Laurie doesn’t believe in panicking over a meal. I added some water to the roasting pan, which soaked in some of the garlic flavor, and, as I basted, incorporated with the chicken’s natural juices. Crisis averted, I got started on my sides.

Because I was roasting a chicken, I decided to do it up. I found four colors of cauliflower at the farmers’ market, along with apples, brussels sprouts, chestnuts, and sweet potatoes. A menu was formed: applesauce (of course), roasted cauliflower with lemon, brussels sprouts sautéed in butter with chestnuts and hazelnuts, and my new best friend, sweet potato biscuits. I even bought a scalloped-edge biscuit cutter for the occasion. And also for the occasion that it was adorable and $2.

I was able to score and roast the chestnuts while the chicken was in the oven, but the cauliflower and biscuits needed higher temps and had to wait until the chicken was done out.

Around 3 pm, I checked the chicken. It had been two hours, and the leg was wiggly, although I could not tell if the breast was the color of teak. Was teak a dark wood? Or a pale yellow? I’m not a carpenter, so I swapped it out anyway (giving it time to rest, I told myself), raised the oven temp, and popped in my cauliflower and biscuit trays (the brussels sprouts were done on the stove).

At 3:45 pm, the table was set, the Moms were seated, and Alex cut into my roast to find one side was perfectly cooked, and the other a lovely apple pink (thanks Laurie) that meant only one thing: My chicken was undercooked. The oven only roasted one side of the stupid bird! And I had to microwave it. My fresh, organic, local, slow-roasted chicken had to spend its last ten minutes of cooking time in the cancer box.

Surprisingly, it didn’t seem as bad as the time I served a 5-pound pot roast to a vegetarian and a cholesterol-watcher. Probably because the Moms were there. And the biscuits. The biscuits definitely helped.


  1. Ovens are so finicky. But as Julia Child says, "No apologies!"

    Is that an Oberon Ale in the background of the first photo? Nice.

  2. I really need one of those biscuits, sister.