The Many Virtues of Roast Chicken

Cooking a whole chicken really is the best way to get the most you can for your meals and your dollar. Please make the effort to buy chickens raised properly, not in cages, not with hormones. Today, I roasted a bird with the leftover herb butter from last week’s steak. Here’s how it went.

I like to keep the accouterments simple. The only must is half a stick of soft butter. Add whatever herbs, garlic, and seasonings you like. Salt and pepper moderately. Mix the butter up with your seasonings and then cover the bird in the butter. I always put some under the skin as well and find that makes the meat especially moist. Put a chopped onion and/or a few celery stalks in the chicken’s cavity. The celery is a little old-fashioned, but I love the taste it imparts.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put your buttered bird in a baking dish relevant to it’s size. Put the breast side down. I had a 3 pound bird and he fit nicely in an 8″x8″ glass dish. To calculate the cooking time, multiply 20 minutes for every pound, then an extra 20 minutes for good measure. I had a 3 pound chicken, so 3 x 20 = 60 + 20 = 80 minutes. After half the cooking time is through, remove the pan from the oven, carefully flip the bird over, and continue roasting for the second half. Letting the juices of the chicken soak into the breasts for half the time makes that often-dry meat much juicier.

After the chicken is done roasting, you could serve the chicken as is and it would make a gorgeous, rustic dinner with some greens and bread. But I don’t often have a table to feed and usually want the chicken to go to many meals, so I let it cool in it’s pan for a while until it’s not too hot to handle. I believe I waited an hour today. Now, on a clean and clear working surface, set a bowl next to your chicken and a large stock pot next to that.  As you take the chicken apart, shred the meat into the bowl and discard all the bones, skin, and rough bits into the stock pot. You can do this with all the meat or reserve the breasts as I did. Once the baking dish is free of it’s chicken, pour the drippings (all that lovely herb butter!) through a fine mesh strainer into a little bowl.

Having shredded chicken on hand is unbelievably useful. It’s perfect toddler food, ideal for salads, filling sandwiches or tortillas, or added to pasta, rice, or vegetable dishes. Just a bit of shredded chicken can make a triangle shaped meal into a more filling square one. The sandwich pictured at the top of this post had sharp cheddar, grainy dijon, lettuce, sauerkraut, and shredded chicken on toasted black bread. Oh my gosh, it was delicious.

For the breasts, I like to slice them and serve with a gravy and potatoes or cold with slices of very sharp cheese. The latter makes an excellent picnic lunch with an apple and country bread.

I keep the drippings in the refrigerator where the fat will solidify and I can scoop out a tablespoon at a time for sauteing vegetables.

As for the stock pot of bones and bits, just fill it with water and a couple tablespoons of white vinegar. Bring it to a boil over high heat, then lower the flame and simmer for a couple hours. Taste and season. Strain into jars. Voila … golden, rich broth.

I ate a lot of this salad today, between and with chicken nibblings. Green lettuce and celery, topped with half an avocado, a sprinkling of hemp seeds, and a honey-like aged balsamic that I really made the whole salad up for. Yum yum Yum.

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