Roast Little Chicken, Roast
Sandie Maxa


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.