In response to Sarah Warburton’s blog posts this week about her family trying to eat more “food-shaped food” (as opposed to processed foods that come in boxes), I wanted to share my favorite roast chicken recipe. It takes a minimal amount of prep work and practically cooks itself, and it’s healthy as well as being delicious. In fact, once I learned how to dry-brine a chicken, it became my default way of preparing whole poultry, because it makes the bird so flavorful and juicy and tender. No more dry chicken!
When we make this recipe, we use two whole birds because Tiny Beowulf can eat half a chicken on his own when he’s hungry. (I wish I were exaggerating, but he’s seven and already bigger than his nine-year-old sister, who’s of at least average height. I’m not hugely tall, but I’m also not completely short, and he comes up to my chin.) But my point is that you can modify the recipe for one chicken. You can also reduce the amount of salt you use for dry-brining, if you wish, especially if you’re seasoning the poultry the day you cook it. You will find the way to your own tastes.
Roast Chicken and Root Vegetables
2 whole fresh chickens (minimally processed, or go organic if you can)
kosher or sea salt
3 whole lemons (quartered, seeds removed if desired)
baby carrots (or sliced large ones)
celery (sliced and chunked)
small potatoes (peeled or not)
extra virgin olive oil
1. Combine the salt, lemon pepper, and garlic salt in a small bowl.
2. Rinse and pat dry the chickens. Patting them dry helps give them a crispier skin in the oven. Dry-brine the chickens with these seasonings up to one or two days in advance of roasting them and put them in the refrigerator, though you can season them the same day you cook them. You’ll need about ¼ tsp. salt for every pound of chicken; add garlic salt and lemon pepper to taste. (I’m generous, especially with the lemon pepper, which isn’t as strong as garlic salt.) Stuff the insides of the chickens with the lemon wedges. (Apologize to the chickens if you feel the need.)
Dry-brining is great because it allows the salt and seasonings to absorb into the meat and then lock in flavor and juices. If you let it rest in the fridge for a day or two, you can observe over time that the chicken will look at one point as if it’s sweating. Do not be alarmed. This is part of the “moisturizing-flavorizing” process. (But don’t take my word for it. You can learn more about this process by doing a Google search for “how to dry brine a chicken” and let yourself be dizzied by the array of experts offering their guidance.)
3. When you’re ready to cook the chickens, pour a shallow bath of chicken broth into the bottom of the baking dish. Toss in the carrots, potatoes, onion, and celery around and under the chickens. Brush olive oil over the tops of the chickens; coat them well.
4. I use a convection oven, but you can do this in a regular oven, too. Roast or bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes, uncovered. Then roast or bake at 450 degrees for 30 minutes, covered with a loose aluminum foil tent.
5. Reduce heat to 375 degrees and continue to bake, loosely tented, until thigh meat (not next to the bone) reaches internal temperature of 165 degrees at least. In my convection oven, this usually takes about another hour to an hour-and-a-half when I’m cooking two chickens, but I recommend you start with 30 or 45 minutes and then just keep checking the temperature and adding on another 10-15 minutes each time as needed. After the first 30-45 minutes, remove the foil so the skin will gently brown and get crispy. Roasting or baking just one chicken may reduce your cooking times. The main goal is to make sure the bird’s internal temperature is safe.
6. Once the birds are out of the oven, let them rest for about five minutes before cutting them up. Serve with the root veggies and a lovely long grain and wild rice or ciabatta bread with butter. If you choose to roast just the chickens without the vegetables, serve with a salad, too.
Om nom nom!
If you make this recipe or have other tips or comments to share about dry-brining poultry or cooking chicken and vegetables, please post in the comments section below!