Things are hard right now. Let’s keep this simple and easy and good. Let’s think about buying a chicken when next we venture out to the store — never mind the surreal sidewalk social-distancing line with the policy of letting in one at a time — then roasting it whole. Let’s make the confines of home less confining by filling them with the warmth and buttery scent and promise of a chicken in the oven, one that’ll come out with crispy-golden skin and juicy, tender meat.
After messing around with several different recipes for roast chicken back in normal times, I found this to be the one that worked the best. It’s the Cook’s Illustrated “Easy” version from one of their old cookbooks, made even easier — without the questionable rinsing of the raw chicken, and without melting the butter then getting a brush all greasy applying it, which didn’t seem to improve matters any. I’ve tried tactics like pushing lemon slices under the bird’s skin — a hassle, and also, way too lemony. I never believed in brining (and felt pretty happy when the experts finally came over to my side). I never tried blow-drying my to-be-roasted chicken when that was a thing, because this roast chicken comes out really, really good, no hairstyling needed.
I gave this roast chicken a bed of root vegetables to rest on, thinking they might get all buttery and chicken-fatty and richly browned on their bottoms, and that proved to be true. Yay! This roast chicken with its vegetables makes me as happy or happier than any roast chicken I’ve ever had at a restaurant, which is a really, really nice thing right now and most definitely not the case with everything I make.
And with a roast chicken, there’s often leftovers with which to make more stuff, which is another very nice thing right now. Chicken salad is also simple and easy and good, and so is my mom’s recipe for chicken-and-lentil stew. (Hi Mom! Thanks for double-checking it via email. I miss you.)
Simple and Easy and Good Roast Chicken for Troubled Times
The only tricky part here is turning a hot whole chicken from side to side — but in case of an incident, just remember what Julia Child said when she flipped a potato pancake out of the pan: “If you’re all alone in the kitchen, nobody will know.”
3-6 medium-to-large carrots
8-10 small red or white potatoes
One 3-to-4-pound whole chicken
About half a stick of butter
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence (optional)
2 teaspoons dried rosemary or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary (optional)
Fresh-ground black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Cut larger carrots and potatoes in half lengthwise. Lay them out, cut side down, in one layer in a 9-by-12-inch metal or glass baking dish (a cast-iron pan that will accommodate your vegetables and bird is also great). Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Remove any giblets from your chicken and nestle among the vegetables, if you care to. Put the chicken wing-side-up atop the vegetables, then sprinkle with plenty of salt and pepper plus some herbs, if you’re going that route. Put 2 nice big pats of butter atop the chicken. Roast for 15 minutes.
4. Take the chicken out and turn it other-wing-side-up; tongs and a fork are your friends here. Sprinkle the bird with plenty of salt and pepper plus some optional herbs, then, again, put 2 nice big pats of butter atop it. Roast for 15 more minutes.
5. Turn oven up to 450 degrees F. Turn chicken drumsticks/breast-side-up, then sprinkle with plenty of salt and pepper plus some optional herbs; again, put 2 butter pats on top, sliding them around to coat the skin with your knife (they may then slide off — no big deal). Roast for 20 minutes more, then test for doneness the Julia Child way: If a drumstick wiggles fairly easily in its socket, and/or if the juices run clear yellow from a sharp knife stuck into the drumstick, it’s ready. If you have a meat thermometer, you want the temperature to reach 165 degrees F deep in the breast, but the bird will keep cooking after departing the oven, so pull it out around 150 degrees.
Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes, then carve and serve with the roasted buttery-chicken-fatty vegetables.
My Mom’s Simple and Easy and Good Chicken-and-Lentil Stew
Use whatever herbs you like, dried or fresh/chopped — my mom’s stew isn’t here to judge.
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, minced
½ medium yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
½ pound of mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chicken broth
1 ½ cups water
1 ½ cups red or yellow lentils
14.5-ounce can of tomatoes, whole or diced
½ teaspoon each dried marjoram and thyme (or a handful of each chopped fresh)
1-2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or diced
4 teaspoons lemon juice
Sour cream or whole-fat plain yogurt for dolloping (optional, but yes!)
1. Saute the first four ingredients, plus a sprinkle of salt and a few grinds of pepper, in the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat for about 5-7 minutes, until everything’s soft.
2. Add the broth, water, lentils, tomatoes and herbs, bring to a boil, then turn heat to medium-low and simmer for 25 minutes.
3. Add the chicken and simmer 5 minutes, then stir in lemon juice and about a teaspoon of salt and maybe 10 grinds of fresh pepper; taste and add more as you like. Serve with a nice big dollop of sour cream or yogurt.
Simple and Easy and Good Modular Chicken Salad
Dice your leftover chicken into bite-sized pieces, then combine with a blob of mayonnaise, a spoonful or two of Dijon mustard, a good sprinkle of kosher salt and several grinds of fresh-ground pepper — taste and adjust to your liking. Consider augmenting with: golden raisins and/or dried apricot bits and/or halved grapes and/or pieces of your favorite nuts and/or chopped celery and/or chopped apple and/or fresh basil and/or a squeeze of lemon juice and/or whatever else you can think of. Serve on crackers or in a sandwich or atop some greens or directly into your mouth.