The Reluctant Cook: Learning to love chicken

Last week, I asked y’all if you’d be interested in an occasional cooking post from me. The feedback I got was that you might be, provided I don’t do it very often and if I include my usual irreverent commentary. I’m going to go ahead and start today, but don’t expect these posts to be like The Martha’s or Pioneer Woman’s, because I am not those people. Simply put, I do not enjoy cooking.

I cook because 1) I want my family to eat in a certain way and 2) because we don’t have the money to hire a chef. I’m a big fan of the Slow Food movement — I use simple ingredients and almost never use processed foods or boxed mixes. I don’t use complicated recipes — actually, I don’t often even use recipes, period — and I’m not interested in things like fancy salts, obscure ingredients, or fads. I like good, simple food.

Today I’m going to talk to you about one of the easiest and most versatile things you can make: roasted chicken.

Photo courtesy of Yahoo Images.

Roasted Chicken

I went through a period of time in my 20s when I didn’t eat poultry because I thought it was disgusting. When I was pregnant with Graceful, I craved fried chicken, so I put my disgust on a back burner and bellied up. For a number of years, I only knew how to cook chicken breasts, but 10 years ago, I discovered the magic of rotisserie chickens.

Imagine this: Walking in the grocery store and buying an already-cooked chicken and then bringing that warm, herby goodness home to your kitchen without having to do any actual cooking. Yum.

I quickly learned that rotisserie chicken can be a valuable tool in your kitchen –  pull the meat off the bones and you have the makings for an easy dinner (just add side dishes) or the building blocks for soups, casseroles, Tex-Mex recipes, and more. Even better, depending on the size of your household, a whole chicken can used for several meals.

My source for rotisserie chickens used to be Sam’s Club, but then we started eating more organic foods. I think we all can agree that the large, plump, and juicy birds sold at Ye Olde Sammy’s Mart are most definitely not organic, free-range, mollycoddled hens. A few years ago, I decided to learn how to cook my own chickens, even though the idea of handling raw birds freaked me out. My first step was to go to Whole Foods and buy a bird that was already cleaned, seasoned, and ready to go. All I had to do was pop it in the oven. I didn’t kill anyone with raw poultry germs, so I bought my first completely raw naked bird, read a lot of recipes, said a few secular Hail Marys and dove in.

The bird was delicious.

Important lesson: Fear is often a silly thing. Get over it.

Now I pray at the altar of roasted chicken at least once a month. In fact, what I often do is do two chickens at once, remove all of that yummy meat from the bones and then freeze the meat in smaller containers for future meals. (And at that time, I also make chicken broth too.) My girls know more or less how to roast a chicken, although handling the bird is not their favorite thing.

I get our birds through a local butcher called The Organic Butcher. I feel comfortable about the origins of the birds I’m buying and know that they weren’t fed shit (literally) or pumped full of other shit. Yes, these hens cost a little more than, say, Food Lion or Kroger, but I’m willing to pay that difference. It also helps that I stretch those birds for multiple meals, plus my family just doesn’t eat that much poultry. Over the course of a year, we might go through 20 or maybe 25 birds at the most, so even if I’m spending a few dollars more per bird, overall, it’s not that large a part of our annual grocery budget.

There are a zillion recipes out there that will tell you to brush this stuff on the bird or stuff those herbs under the skin. Go and do all that if you want. Or, be lazy like me and do the following:

  • Depending on the size of your bird, allow around three hours for baking, cooling, and de-boning. If you’re going to put stuffing in the bird, allow more time.
  • Heat the oven to 350F. (Don’t try to cut corners and boost the oven temp to 400 or higher; you’ll just end up with a dried-up bird.)
  • Spray a roasting pan with cooking spray or brush it thoroughly with oil. (Fancy pans are not necessary; I use this kind.)
  • Plop your bird onto the pan breast-side down so that the dark meat juices drip down to the breast. Try not to think about how it looks like a newborn baby.
  • If you remember, sprinkle salt and pepper on the bird. If you forget, don’t worry about it.
  • Stick the chicken in the oven and walk away for a while. It’s going to take at least 90 minutes for your bird to cook, depending on the size. Go check your email or even better, send me an email about your yummy dinner.
  • After about 60 minutes, flip the bird over so that the other side browns too.
  • After another 30 minutes or so, check to see if the bird is done. If you look online, you can find instructions on using a meat thermometer. (I’m not even sure if we own one of those.) Just cut into the breast and see if the meat is still pink. Pink = poison. Very pale pink is okay.
  • Pull the bird out and let it sit for about 15 minutes or you’re going to burn the shit out of your hands when you try to cut it up. Cut open the skin in a few places to vent the heat. When it’s cool enough to cut, either cut it into different parts (legs, breasts, etc.) or completely de-bone and remove all meat.
  • Enjoy.

Note: Some cookbooks will tell you to wash off and rinse the bird and pat it dry; I never do because I spend extra money on mollycoddled organic birds and I expect them to come to me pristine. (Plus, I’m lazy.) (If germs don’t bake off after a couple of hours at 350 degrees, then you need to call the CDC and report a new bio-weapon.)

If you pull all the meat off the bones, you have the makings for other meals. Chicken meat freezes really well and is a great ingredient to have in your freezer for quick meals. If I have have broth and cooked chicken meat in the freezer, I can have some sort of soup on the table in less than 30 minutes.

Anyway, I hope this is helpful. I’d love to hear about how you cook chicken or some great recipes you might have. Also, feel free to leave requests in the comments for other foods you want me to blog about. I’m thinking my next Reluctant Cook post will be about Thursday nights at Jenworld. You know what I’m talking about.

Don’t forget about the giveaway!

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20 Responses to The Reluctant Cook: Learning to love chicken

  1. Nic says:

    We do exactly this all the time! We call it ‘roast chicken’ and as I’m sure you know, it’s a Brit staple. We use the whole bird too – roast chicken as a meal, then pull off the meat for sandwiches, and the bones go in for stock (broth). Out of even the smallest chicken, with the two of us we can get at least three meals. Plus the stock is SO much better than what you can buy for a ridiculous sum of money in the shops.

    I actually love doing it simply, and then I’ll make gravy from scratch using the fat from the bird that’s dripped off, and water from the inevitable boiled vegetables. Yum.

    On the subject of quality bird, I have had this argument so many times with K. If I go to the supermarket, we end up with a free range organic bird. If he goes, no matter that he does in principle accept my arguments about animal care, meat quality, and who-knows-what goes into a typical supermarket bargain chicken, he will still come away with a ‘but this was a bargain!’ chicken. I despise shopping, but if he goes, I get a sub-standard bird and a bunch of unnecessary plastic.

  2. Kathy Kildea says:

    In the summertime, I have a tendency to get out of my ‘roast-a-chicken-twice-a-month’ mode that is ingrained habit during the cooler months. With just the two of us, we can make a chicken stretch for 3 meals – easily – and the BEST part is the stock. Dear Lord it’s good. And I don’t waste any of the oven-roasted lusciousness: I roast the bird in an enameled cast iron baking dish, and let all that great fond develop as the bird does its thing. After I’ve boned it, all the bones & skin go back into the baking dish (which I have NOT scrubbed clean after the roast – all that great stuff going down the drain? are you kidding me???) anyway, all the bones & skin back into the pan with about 2 quarts of water, cover with foil and put it on the burner on med-low for about an hour. Strain out the ‘stuff’ – chill, and if I’m making gravy for one of the inevitable dinners from this bird, I’ll save some of the chicken fat to start it with. If I don’t have immediate plans for the stock, I put it in 8 ounce freezer containers, and load up the freezer. That is like having frozen GOLD, in my mind – improves so many things from rice to veggies to soups…. and absolutely no canned product can touch it!

  3. alison says:

    I always make the chicken do the dance from Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’ video when I’m rinsing it before roasting. But that’s just me. :) Never had a problem handling raw birds, except when I was pregnant. Then, it made me nauseous.

    We like roast chicken here too, it’s one meal we all will eat. You must roast much bigger birds than I do, my little ones roast to perfection in about an hour. I start mine off at 400 for 20 minutes and then drop the temp to 325 for the rest of the time. I put a meat thermometer in the thigh.

  4. Molly says:

    Roast chicken is a staple in our house as well. I hate touching raw meat of any kind, but once I take a deep breath and plunge forward with both hands, I like to massage my chicken with butter and liberally add rosemary, salt and pepper inside and out – like a beauty scrub for the bird. Not only does it taste divine, but the whole smells like love for the rest of the day/night.

  5. When I roast a chicken I just coat the whole skin with Morton Seasoned Salt. We eat it as a meal, then the leftovers become chicken pot pie or chicken tacos and some version of chicken salad (with bacon and hard-boiled eggs or fruit and nut).

    This week I grilled 8 pounds of boneless chicken (that I cut into strips) in the George F Grill. We have been making fajitas, sandwiches and putting it on top of tossed salads.

  6. Frannie says:

    We eat tons of chicken in Frannieland. It’s that one go to meat that everyone will eat and not complain about.

    I rarely cook mine in the over though. Everyone prefers it on the grill. (Even in January.)
    I use this method http://www.finecooking.com/articles/how-to/chicken-under-a-brick.aspx to flatten the chicken. :)

    It’s a little more hand ons than most but it’s worth it.

  7. Missy says:

    Magic Chicken:
    Take one oven roaster chicken, 1 medium onion, 2 lemons, and 2-3 cloves of garlic. Cut the onion and lemons into quarters and stuff into the cavity with the peeled garlic cloves. Roast as usual, although you can leave the bird breast side up, since the lemons help keep everything nice and juicy.

    Result? Magically juicy, slightly lemony, incredibly flavorful chicken, ready for a variety of uses. Enjoy!

  8. Smalltown Me says:

    I stuff mine with garlic, rosemary, and lemon.

  9. I roast in the winter and rotisserie on my BBQ in the warmer months. No one left at my house likes the dark meat so I grill chicken breast more often than whole ones. Don’t have the same squeamishness about the raw bird, though!

  10. Jenn3128 says:

    I’m hungry. I love roast chicken skin! I don’t have any trouble touching raw chicken, its the guts on the inside that I have trouble with. I usually hold it over the sink & start shaking and they all plop out and I gag. I put my chicken in a dutch oven. I’ve said it before, but that pan is a miracle! I prefer dijon mustard with my chicken, rub some of that on there, yum.

  11. bdaiss says:

    I”m not going to jump on the “we love roast chicken” bandwagon (because, let’s face it, we’ve been on that one for a loooooong time!). Instead I’ll just say I’m currently on a mission to convince hubby to invest in some real live chickens. Because #1 fresh eggs! All the time! #2 Fresh meat! #3 Additional pest control! I have yet to conquer. Hubby was forced to pluck to many chickens as a youth. He’s still scarred.

  12. Chicken is ridiculously easy. So are eggs.

  13. Renee says:

    This was a great post, Jen. You make it sound so easy, I might even have to try it. :-)

  14. Patience says:

    I never wash my chickens either. I like to slide a few garlic cloves between the skin and the flesh and give the bird a “butter massage” as Julia Child calls it.

  15. Jenny says:

    Butter massage – ahhh.

  16. Lori H says:

    I used to be terrified of making a roast chicken until I used the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe (love her even if she lives in snooty Hamptons and her hardware store looks like a sister to Anthro). Anyway, now my family calls roast chicken “Contessa chicken” and we have it at least once a month. Enjoyed your cooking post very much! Curious about Thursday nights in Jenworld..inside joke?

  17. J says:

    As many have told you it is a good Britsih staple meal and is usually down very simply just as you describe. If you have a slow cooker (cock post) you can also cook a whole chicken in there and then leave bones and jiuces in to make stock. I often pop one in before going to work (Again breast down and in a small amount of liquid with a few herbs and onion in) and then when I get home make a salad or potatoes and veggie to go with it and Voila a quick healthy meal.

  18. kimkasch says:

    You’ve got my mouth watering. I’m heading straight to Popeye’s !!!

  19. Suzie says:

    I love to roast a chicken. My favorite way is with a red onion inside, and garlic and rosemary under the skin. The leftovers make excellent chicken salad.

    We used to regularly get the pre-roasted chickens from Trader Joe’s. We’d pull the meat off and eat it with pita, hummus, tabouli, etc. That was when we had two working parents in the house, and we needed the shortcuts.

    Now, I’m blessed with a work at home husband who also loves to cook. So, I really don’t roast chickens all that much, and we don’t buy pre-roasted chickens but rarely (like, when for some reason dinner is MY job).

  20. Suzie says:

    Posting a second time to whine about stock. My younger daughter is a vegetarian, and has been for years. As a result, we never use chicken stock. All of our soups are veggie stock. It’s really just not the same.

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