Roast Little Chicken, Roast


Roasting a chicken, people say, is easy. And it can be. But to reach poultry perfection I've tried many things.

Attempt 1:
Resource: Cooking Light

Anxious to use the shiny new roasting pan I received as a Christmas gift, I washed it and pondered the huge wire rack that was included. Did I need it for a 4 lb. chicken? Cooking Light recommended using celery stalks as a "rack" to keep the chicken up off the pan bottom and infuse some vegetable flavor into the bird, so I gave it a try. I softened some butter, mixed in some fresh herbs and stuffed it under the skin. I then stuck it in the oven and came back an hour later. I poked and prodded it, and hesitantly determined it was done.

THE RESULT: Edible, but not great. The celery "rack" was the worst idea ever. The celery disintegrated into mush so the chicken just sat in its juice on the bottom of the pan. The bird's color was what I'd call beige, rather than the golden, crispy chicken I was hoping for.

Attempt 2:
Resource: French Food At Home by Laura Calder and Joy of Cooking's "Turned Roasted Chicken" recipe

In the past I've made tasty recipes from French Food at Home, so I thought I'd try the roast chicken non-recipe called "This is Not a Recipe for Roast Chicken." Its witty prose claims, "Nobody wants to face measuring cups, and a meat thermometer, and a list of fussy instructions. Instead we shut our tired eyes: we do know the roast-a-chicken routine." We do? I kept reading, keeping my inexperience to myself. I took Laura's suggestion of turning the bird every 20 minutes as well as stuffing the cavity with lemons (but declined the peeled bananas). On schedule, I turned the bird, using an elaborate system of tongs and wooden spoons to shift it from left to right to center. All was going well... Or so I thought until I took the chicken out after an hour.

THE RESULT: It wasn't brown, it wasn't done. It was just rubbery and flabby. After further investigation, I discovered that when I flipped for the last time, I put the breast side down. Big mistake. Bad chicken.

Attempt 3
Resource: Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook

Undeterred by my two previous experiences, I pressed on and tried the BH&G cookbook's version, a mere 100-word recipe. I nestled the chicken in its rack, stuffed it with lemon, onions, garlic and parsley, sprinkled it with salt and pepper, and brushed it with melted butter. It sat, untouched in the oven for 1-1/2 hours.

THE RESULT: A delicious, golden brown, savory chicken. A new piece of equipment, a digital thermometer, helped a lot, taking away any guess work as to when the chicken was done. It stopped me from opening the oven door repeatedly, keeping the heat in the oven. And melted butter was key to browning the bird.

I like the idea of mastering a simple dish. Something I can make without looking at a cookbook, and something I can tweak to my liking. It's not quite there, but I'll keep working on the chicken.

Ann, Apr 19 2007 2:49PM


I am really impressed at your persistance, but I understand not wanting to stop until you got it right. Speaking of roasted chicken, recently I have become a fan of buying the grocery-store-roasted chickens for dinner on Sunday night when they're on sale for 3.99. I don't really have the time to spend cooking that I used to. And I hate spending all evening after the kids are asleep cleaning the kitchen! So I've come to rely a lot more on convenience products these days with 2 kids in the house. (I still cook most nights, but I just don't explore as many new or involved recipes as I used to.)


sandie, Apr 20 2007 11:16AM

Thanks for the comment, Ann. It's crossed my mind that it would be easier to buy a roasted chicken, but I didn't know that the price can be as low as $3.99! I guess you can't put a price on the love that goes into making the bird.

matthew, Apr 23 2007 1:32PM

I have to admit that I am with Ann on this. I pretty much gave up on whole chickens except for special occasions after walking past the 4.99 ready to eat chickens in order to purchase a 6.99 raw chicken at the local SuperTarget. I have done some experimentation with the Joy of Cooking turned bird method, and I think it is worth another look. I use a modified version of this recipe for holiday turkey and I have never been dissappointed. The key is making a quick and safe turn. I recommend silicone hot pads and commercial grade dishwashing gloves. The commercial dishwashing gloves also come in handy for all those times you wish you could plunge your hands into a pot of bowling water.

sandie, Apr 24 2007 3:19PM

Thanks for the tips on turning a bird, Matt. And the equipment suggestions are great... I'll have to pick up some silicone hot pads and heavy duty gloves. Glad to know that others have done a cost benefit analysis on buying a roast chicken versus making one!

mark, May 1 2007 9:20AM

even though i whole heartedly agree with effort involved in perfecting the bird cooking technique (because i benefit directly from it), it's hard to get past the economics of it. with boston market offering an extra chicken for $2 (albeit icky) the roast chicken seems to have gone the way of chinese food. i dare any home cook to make a chinese meal for the same amount of money and in a similar amount of time as a good take-out place.

Matthew, May 4 2007 8:43PM

The only way to get a decent chicken for a decent price is to grow your own. According to Michael Pollan, you can grow a pound of chicken from 2 pounds of corn. Assuming you can get commodity pricing on corn in Queens, that works out to about 80 cents per chicken. Mark and Sandy, I think you have plenty of space in your apartment to raise chickens. Maybe you could develop a window box coup for our less fortunate friends in Manhattan. You could even get fresh eggs!