Then it was just a matter of constructing a solid soup base of onions, garlic, carrots, and herbs gently sweated in butter to full flavor potential. Then I added my homemade chicken stock, and leftover chicken meat. Done. And delicious.
Now, listen, I get it. Can a whole chicken be intimidating? Yes. Is it ultimately that complicated or hard to pull off? NO! But, I'll be the first to admit, it's such a hands-on procedure that having a well-versed buddy in the kitchen with you the first time can make all the difference. Which is why I'm thinking I should start a chicken-based charity/small business (I haven't decided yet...maybe for every one-on-one workshop purchased I'll donate another to someone in need? I'm making this up as I go...)...A Chicken in the Kitchen! Or something like that...I'll show up with a whole chicken, help a person in need of affordable and manageable meal options to roast the whole chicken, and pack up the leftovers, show up the next day to help make the stock, and THEN help to make the chicken soup. AND, I'll leave behind a list of recipes to use the leftover chicken meat and stock in: barbecued pulled chicken sandwiches, curried chicken salad, poached eggs in broth, chicken pot pie...I'll be a chicken evangelist! Which is saying something, because I can count on one hand the number of times I buy chicken a year. Why? Well, it can be pretty boring when compared to the more ambrosial flavors of duck confit, artisanal grass-fed burgers, smoked trout, seared scallops...but a properly roasted chicken is anything but boring. It's simultaneously an ocean of comforting familiarity, and a bright and surprising new flavor experience...just like this gorgeous Spring bloom I spotted the other day!
Now, for those of you who, you know, aren't prepared to pay me to show up at your door with a whole chicken (seriously? Why not?), let me give you just a few basic chicken-cooking tips. A 4-5 pound bird will feed two people with lots of leftovers. Roast your chicken for about twenty minutes per pound of weight at 375-400 degrees Fahrenheit. Start on the low end, maybe closer to twenty minutes per 1.5 pounds of weight, and check for doneness. Start your chicken covered in foil, and when you've got about half an hour left, remove the foil. Your chicken is done when a leg moves easily in the joint (meaning the connective tissue has begun to break down), the juices run clear (meaning the proteins have coagulated/denatured/cooked), and if you really want to be safe, stick an instant read thermometer into the meat of the thigh. Make sure you don't touch the bone. I like to see the temp sit just a couple degrees UNDER 165 degrees Fahrenheit because it will continue to coast up a few degrees as it carry-over cooks. Even if you're looking at 170 degrees Fahrenheit, you should still have a juicy bird if you brought some extra fat to the party. And NO, I am not talking about basting. Do you really want to stick your face in a hot oven over and over to pour fat uselessly over your poor, not-cooking-because-you've-let-all-the-heat-out-AGAIN chicken? Of course not!
Instead, make an opening under the skin at the top of the breast, near where the neck used to be. Gently slide your hands under the skin on each side of the sternum, creating a nice pocket. Put some butter in there, and then use your hands on the outside of the skin to smooth the butter into a (more or less) even layer all over the meat of the breast. It's just like that weird, mess-free finger painting contraption you got for Christmas when you were a kid! Oh, that was just me? Right...For bonus points, you should have added some minced (or grated, or pressed) garlic, salt, and chopped herbs to the butter first. The slowly melting fat will baste your chicken for you, no cooking interruptions needed, and if you add the garlic and herbs, you WILL taste those delicate flavors in the breast meat of your chicken, and it will be amazing.
So, how about it? Do you feel like chicken tonight? Or will you just be kicking back with a cup of chamomile tea? Don't worry, whole chickens aren't going anywhere. Let me know when you give this recipe a try! Take some pictures of that classic image, and be proud. You fought the chicken, and you won! I'd give you a bouquet of local blooms if I could. :-D