Simple is often best when it comes to roasting a chicken. Here, we start with a good bird, use minimal seasonings and let heat do the rest. Recipe below.
These days, even the most hardcore carnivores [and yeah, that includes me] are thinking more about the meat they consume. Where it comes from, how it’s raised, how it’s processed—even how it’s packaged. So when I was invited to sample some Just BARE™ Chicken—all natural, minimally processed chicken raised cage-free by independent, local family farmers in the upper Midwest—I jumped at the chance.
Some home cooks are fortunate enough to have access to local farmers markets or CSAs [Community Supported Agriculture groups] that can provide them with a regular source for meat and poultry raised by small scale independent farmers. Many, however, aren’t. The challenge has been to find successful business models for translating better farming practices [better for consumers, the environment and the animals themselves] to larger scales to feed a larger market affordably and profitably.
Solutions are being found. Increasingly, terms like organic and free range are showing up in places like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and even more mainstream supermarkets. Often these products carry a higher price tag, but more and more consumers are showing a willingness to pay it. And that has more and more producers looking for ways to serve this growing market.
Just BARE Chicken’s approach is a particularly interesting one. Their birds are all natural, with no antibiotics, and are vegetable fed. And while they’re not exactly free range, they’re never caged. Here’s how Julie Berling, director of brand strategy and advocacy for Just BARE, describes their farm practices:
Just BARE flocks are free to roam in modern, climate-controlled barns. The chickens are able to eat and drink whenever they want and interact as they would in the outdoors. They are provided the right amount of light and darkness to reflect natural conditions, and protected from external environmental hazards. Advanced heating and cooling systems keep barns well-ventilated and comfortable during the extreme Midwest winters and summers.
“Just bare” refers to more than the minimal processing and lack of additives in the chicken. It speaks to the overall transparency of how they do business. For starters, they package much of their chicken in transparent, recyclable plastic trays with clear film lids [whole chickens are vacuum packed in mostly clear plastic]. This gives consumers a nearly 360-degree view of the chicken inside—no hiding big globs of fat under leg quarters. Even more interesting, each package of chicken comes with a three-digit Family Farm Code. By entering this code at the Just BARE Chicken website, you can see the location of the specific family farm where the chicken was raised.
Besides whole chickens, they offer packages of drumsticks, skinless boneless breasts, breast tenders and skinless boneless thighs. Just BARE Chicken is currently sold through a number of supermarket chains in the Midwest as well as most SuperTarget stores nationwide. To see if it’s available where you are, check their retailer locator.
If you can’t stand the heat, you must be roasting
Roasting is all about heat, and the reigning champion in this regard is Barbara Kafka. In her excellent, exhaustive cookbook on the subject, Roasting—A Simple Art, she advocates roasting a chicken at 500ºF! What sounds like a recipe for an incinerated disaster actually produces a delicious, moist bird with beautifully browned, crisp skin. And it sets a land speed record for doing it—a five- to six-pound bird takes a mere 50 to 60 minutes. Unfortunately, this high-heat method is also an excellent means for testing smoke detectors and selling oven cleaner by the case. After more than a few dramatically smoke-filled evenings, we’ve decided to turn things down a bit.
But we have adopted a few of Ms. Kafka’s practices. First and foremost, after rinsing your chicken, dry it thoroughly with paper towels. Too much moisture in the bird—and therefore in the oven—and you end up steaming it, not roasting it. For that same reason, use an open roasting pan with low sides and no lid to let the heat get at the chicken from all sides. Keep your lovely, lidded roasting pans for slow braising pot roasts or osso buco.
After a lot of reading and a little experimenting, here’s my approach to roast chicken. You’ll see I keep things very simple—partly because I’m lazy, but partly because simple tastes so good, especially with a good bird.
Roast Chicken with Rosemary
1 whole chicken, 3 to 4 pounds [you can do larger or smaller, of course—just adjust the time]
canola oil [or other high smoke point, neutral-flavored oil]
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
fresh rosemary—two teaspoons coarsely chopped leaves, plus one sprig
Place oven rack in bottom third of oven. Preheat oven to 450ºF [give it a good 20 to 25 minutes to get there—you want to start out good and hot to produce nicely browned, crisp skin].
Rinse chicken inside and out [after removing neck and giblets, he said from experience] and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Salt cavity of chicken. Using your hands, rub canola oil over the outside of the bird. Season generously with salt and pepper, then sprinkle with chopped rosemary [some recipes would have you place it under the skin—see Kitchen Notes for my thoughts on this]. Place rosemary sprig inside cavity.
Grease large roasting pan with a little canola oil for easier clean-up. Place chicken on rack in pan breast side up. [Kafka advocates no rack, but I think it helps the bird roast more evenly—your call.] Roast chicken for 20 minutes at 450ºF, then reduce heat to 375º. Roast until juices run clear, about 40 to 60 minutes [times are very approximate—see Kitchen Notes for details]. Meanwhile, melt a little butter into a little canola oil in a small sauce pan. Use this to baste chicken a few times as it roasts. When you baste the chicken, remove the pan from the oven and close the oven door to avoid too much heat loss.
When chicken is done, transfer it to a platter or carving board and tent with foil. Let it rest for about 10 minutes before carving. At this point you can deglaze the roasting pan over burners on the stovetop, or you can be lazy like I was the other night and skip that part.
Seasoning the bird. A search for “roast chicken” turned up more than 500 recipes on epicurious.com. Lots of them have you “carefully slide hand under skin, loosening skin over breast, thighs, and top of drumsticks” in order to insert herbs, spices, olive paste, butter or whatever. Lots of them don’t. But you know, in my admittedly limited experience [and according to at least one famous chef whose name escapes me right now], it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference. Okay, if you’re using cumin or some other heavy-duty spice, it does, but with most flavorings, not so much. Roasted chicken pretty much tastes like roasted chicken—which, when done right, tastes pretty wonderful. In fact, we sometimes use nothing but salt and pepper when we roast chicken. I added the rosemary here for the visual appeal as much as anything.
Is it done yet? Many recipes tell you to roast a chicken until a thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 180°F. That’s one indicator. But for us, the truest test of doneness is whether the juices run clear. Use a long-handled spoon to spoon some out from the cavity, or tip the bird forward so some pours out from the cavity. If there’s any pinkness to the juices, it’s not done yet, whatever your thermometer claims.
And finally, how was the Just BARE Chicken? Delicious! Flavorful and juicy, wonderfully fresh tasting. Marion has also cooked an Asian noodle dish with the boneless skinless thigh meat, with equally satisfying results. Definitely worth looking for.