What can a chicken teach us?

Hey man where’d you get
That lotion? I been hurting
Since I bought the gimmick
About something called love
Yeah something called love
That’s like hypnotizing chickens
Well I am just a modern guy
Of course I’ve had it in the ear before
-Lust for Life, Iggy Pop

Why is it that some of the simplest things in life are the ones we never take the time to learn to do right? Since we can do something fairly easily and get by, what is the point in making sure we are getting the absolute best results possible? There are more pressing issues that need addressed, and my meager efforts on this front are enough, right? While those would seem to be fairly reasonable questions, and one could even argue that it is human nature to feel that way, I would argue that the effort it takes to do simple thing correctly is what separates the great from the mediocre.

I can hear the snickers from long time readers and people who know me personally as they mockingly ask, “Joe, advocating we follow the rules? What about individual expression, being a rebel, anarchy in the UK, and all that stuff?” Yeah, I know, but you can’t properly break the rules if you don’t what they are, can you? That is the crux of the biscuit, as my late Uncle Frank was wont to say.

But we’re not making biscuits here, although they would make a fine accompaniment to any leftovers. No, we’re talking chicken. Simply roasted chicken. Nothing fancy, nothing difficult, just a lowly barnyard fowl. Easy as pie, right? No, actually pie is much more difficult to do right. We’ll stick to chickens for now.

There are a few things that any cook should be able to do if they want to be considered competent. The ability to use a sharp knife without regularly losing a digit comes to mind. Making a proper omelet does as well. Roasting a chicken is one of those skills. The first two take a lot of practice, but roasting a chicken doesn’t, not when you know how. But the results are so spectacular that lesser kitchen beings will think you some sort of culinary wizard to be feared and respected.

Here’s how:

After removing the delicious innards packet, the first step is to dry the yardbird inside and out. I use a few paper towels, and I do it a couple of times. Then place it on a rack in a good roasting pan and let it air dry a little longer. I usually place it under a ceiling fan turned on high. The drier we get the bird, the less steam will be produced. Our goal is to have a delicious, crisp skin surrounding succulent juicy meat. Steam is our enemy. We HATE it!


The next step is to season our little friends. Sprinkle kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper both inside and outside the chicken.

Get all of the children and old people out of the room because we are about to get to the really kinky part of the process. It’s time to tie these birds up! Now there are plenty of people who will tell you the proper way to tie up your food, but I’m not one of them. What you do in the privacy of your own kitchen is none of my business, and I prefer to keep it that way. I really don’t care if you want to use all sorts of fancy knots, or if you just make a slipknot and figure 8 the kitchen twine a few times before making a granny knot. All that matters is that the chickens legs are tightly pulled together. The rest is strictly between you and your chicken. I won’t ask and I would appreciate if you don’t tell.

Tied up chickens for roasting

Who’s been a naughty bird? Oh yeah, you’re a bad birdy! Oops, sorry, I thought you would take more time looking at the photos than that. Where were we? Oh yes, we were very primly and properly roasting a chicken.

At this point our chicken is nice and dry, properly seasoned (yeah, I cheated and added some smoked paprika when you weren’t looking) , and helplessly tied up. All that’s left to do is to pop it in an oven that has been preheated to 425° and set the timer for 10 minutes. When the timer goes off drop the temperature to 375° and reset the timer to 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes take a peek at the chicken to make sure that it is browning evenly. In my tiny, crappy oven I have to turn the pan once to get even color. The average chicken takes about an hour to cook, but once the skin is a nice golden brown and the internal temperature is very close to 165° as measure in the thickest parts of  both the breast and the thigh. I say nearly 165° because it will continue to cook for the first few minutes it is resting after being removed from the oven. Let it rest for at least 10 minutes, 15 would be even better.

Roasted chickens

They look pretty good, don’t they? They tasted even better. As you can see, during the cooking process I added some celery, onions and carrots to the pan. I should have added them earlier, but forgot. They weren’t added at the beginning because they would have given off steam, and remember we HATE steam! However, once the skin started to crisp I could have added them so that they took on more color and flavor. Que sera sera.

These vegetables were not added to flavor the chicken, but to flavor the gravy I made from the drippings. We won’t get into a detailed explanation of proper gravy making this time, but I made a roux from the drippings in the bottom of the pan. For liquid I used some Chardonnay, the broth from simmering the innards with veggies, and a little boxed chicken stock. I tossed a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme and rosemary into the gravy as it thickened. A little salt and pepper for seasoning and it was finished, other than straining it to get the leaves out.

Gravy for roasted chicken

Pairing: We paired this with a 2006 Napa Valley Chardonnay from Darioush Winery. Pale gold, the color of sunlight with a nose of lemon zest, vanilla and pineapple, this is a Darioush Signature Wine. Once on the palate, we tasted pear and apricot flavors with a touch of melon and a hint of butterscotch. Crisp mineral structure finishing with notes of nutmeg and toasted hazelnut. Wow! Amy says this reminds her of the pineapple whip they serve at the Dole Plantation on O‘ahu. Perhaps that’s  why Michelle Obama chose it for the G-20 Spouses Dinner Menu. 14.5% ABV. We got this one from the nice folks at Napa Valley Vintners. The 2006 vintage is sold out at the winery, but they have 2007 and 2008 vintages available. Priced at $43

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