Sunday, July 29, 2012

Simple Roast Chicken and Homemade Chicken Stock

Don't let it intimidate you.

Roasting a whole chicken probably seems like overkill when you're cooking for one (sometimes two, but my roommate's eating schedule doesn't always match up with my own).  But one whole chicken and a free afternoon can yield a week's worth of future meals if you use it right.  And, the best part is, it's really not that difficult. 

First:  roasting the chicken.  Handling a whole chicken can seem a little daunting at first, but once you get it prepped, all you have to do is set in a pan and let the oven do the rest of the work.  There are a lot of different recipes out there.  Some involve brining for hours beforehand, shoving herbs up under the skin, or covering it in butter or oil.  My favorite isn't nearly so involved, but it always yields a tasty bird with crispy skin.

Once you're done roasting and eating your beautiful bird, your kitchen duty isn't quite done yet.  Chicken stock is one of the most versatile things you can keep at hand in your kitchen.  You can use it in sauces, to add flavor to pasta or rice, and, of course, to make as many varieties of soup as you can think of.  And by using the carcass of your roasted chicken, you can really stretch the $7 that you spent on that bird.

Simple Roast Chicken
1 whole chicken (whatever size you want)
1 head of garlic
1 lemon
fresh herbs
2 Tbs. salt
1 tsp. pepper

Preheat your oven to 425°F.  Chances are, there are some chicken innards (neck, gibblets, etc.) for you to clean out of the bird's cavity.  Remove them, but DO NOT toss them out.  Stick them in a plastic bag to save for use in your stock.

Rinse the chicken thoroughly, inside and out, and then pat it dry with paper towels, also inside and out.  The drier you can get that skin, the crispier it will be.  Trim off any fat, as well as the wing tips.  There's not really any meat on them, but they'll add some great flavor to the stock.  Store these pieces along with the innards for later use.

Chop your garlic and lemon in half and stick them in the cavity of the bird, as well as whatever fresh herbs you have on hand (I'm lucky enough to have a rosemary bush out in the front of my apartment complex, so that's what I used), and about half of the salt and pepper.

At this point, you can truss up the bird with kitchen twine.  It'll help keep the stuffing inside, and, theoretically, it should give you a more evenly cooked chicken.  I'll be honest, though, I don't always have kitchen twine on hand, and the birds I've roasted without trussing come out just as well, if you ask me.

Rub the rest of your salt and pepper all over the skin of the chicken.  Stick the chicken on a rack on a roasting pan, or in a cast iron pan, breast side up, and stick it in the oven.  Roast at 425°F for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350°F and roast for 20 minutes per pound of your chicken.  So, a 3 pound bird should roast for about an hour.

If you don't have an instant read thermometer to check the temperature of your chicken, there are other ways you can check for doneness.  The skin should be golden and crispy, and when you tip the bird the juices should run clear, not pink.  Also, the leg joints should jiggle easily.

When your chicken is done, remove it from the oven and cover loosely with foil while it rests for 10 minutes.  Carve up your bird and enjoy a delicious chicken meal.*

Chicken Stock
Carcass of 1 roasted chicken
Chicken innards and wing tips
2-3 celery sticks, or 5-6 leafy celery tops
2-3 carrots
1 whole onion, quartered
fresh parsley
bay leaf
5 peppercorns
Cold water to cover

When you're done with dinner, separate the meat from the bones and skin of the rest of the chicken.  Save the meat for future meals (sandwiches, salads, chicken pot pie, oh my!), and break up as many of the little chicken bones as you can.  Then toss all the bones, skin, carcass (throw out the lemon and garlic, if you haven't already) and innards into the stock pot.

Toss in celery (if you have enough, just use the leafy part at the top - the flavor is still there, and you can save the actual celery sticks for future snacks), carrots, onion (don't even bother to remove the skin), parsley, bay leaf and peppercorns in the pot. 

Fill the pot with enough cold water to cover.  Heat on the stove on medium-high heat until it starts to boil, then reduce to a very low simmer.  Simmer, uncovered, for about 4 hours.  If the water level gets too low, just add more.

Remove from heat and throw out all of the solid pieces in the stock, then strain through a mesh strainer lined with cheese cloth of paper towels to get anything you missed.  Stick the stock in the fridge to cool overnight.

In the morning, skim the layer of fat from the top of the stock and divide it up into jars, tupperware, plastic bags - however you prefer to store it.  Stock will keep for about a week in the fridge or several months in the freezer.

* You may notice I roasted some potatoes along with my chicken.  To do the same, just drizzle a little olive oil over some small red or white potatoes and toss with salt, pepper and minced garlic to taste.  Add to your chicken roasting pan about 1 hour and 30 minutes before the end of your cooking time.  The potatoes will soak up the chicken juices as they cook.  Ta-da!  Perfect side dish.

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