Letty Smith’s Roast Chicken
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 quarts water
Olive oil or butter
To brine the bird, dissolve the 1/2 cups of salt and sugar in 2 quarts of water. Pour the brine into a bowl big enough to fully submerge the chicken; you may have to put something heavy on top to hold the bird down.
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Remove chicken from brine and pat dry. Mix a few tablespoons of olive oil or butter with chopped herbs. Loosen the skin of the bird at the neck and rub spices and oil under skin. Sprinkle the entire bird liberally with salt and pepper. You can also put veggies such as onions, carrots, celery in the cavity of the bird, but it’s not necessary. Put in a heavy pan or roasting pan with a lid. Cook covered for the first hour, then take off the lid for the last 15-30 minutes. Cook until a meat thermometer inserted in the breast reads 165 and 170 to 175 in the thigh. Let rest 5 minutes or more — if you can wait.
Jamie Oliver’s Perfect Roast Chicken
1 chicken, 2-3 pounds
Freshly ground black pepper
3 small handfuls of fresh herbs (basil, parsley, marjoram), finely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lemon, halved
4 bay leaves, torn
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
Heat the oven to 425 and place the roasting tray inside.
Wash the chicken inside and out, pat it as dry as possible with paper towels. Rub the cavity with salt then, being very careful, grab the skin at the tip of the chicken breasts, making sure that it doesn’t rip, and pull up gently. With your other hand, gently separate the skin from the meat of the breast. It’s normally connected by a little bit of tissuey-type stuff. Sprinkle a little salt into the gap you have made and push in the chopped herbs. Drizzle in a little olive oil. Pull the skin of the chicken breast forward so that none of the actual flesh is exposed, tuck the little winglets under. Stuff the chicken with lemon, bay and rosemary.
Slash across each thigh about 3 or 4 times and rub in some of the leftover herbs, which allows the heat to penetrate directly into the thigh meat, enabling it to cook faster. With your hand, rub a little olive oil into the skin of the chicken and season very generously with salt and pepper.
Remove the hot tray from the oven and add a little oil. Put the chicken on one side, breast side down on the tray, and put back into the oven. Allow to cook for 5 minutes, then turn it over on to the other side, breast side down. Cook for another 5 minutes and then place the chicken on its back. Cook for 1 hour.
— From “The Naked Chef” by Jamie Oliver
When Letty Smith makes roast chicken for herself and her husband, Curtis, she knows better than to scrimp on the size of the bird.
“We’re big eaters, so if I don’t have a pretty big bird, say 5 pounds or so, Curtis gets mad at me,” she says with a laugh.
As owners of Circle S Farm in New Salem, Ga., the Smiths know their chickens. Along with various produce and cows, they raise laying and eating chickens on the farm, which has been around for about 10 years.
“I love to roast ‘em and it’s so easy if you have a good, fresh chicken,” Letty says. “Add a little salt/pepper and olive oil or butter and you are good to go.”
Along with the succulent taste, simplicity is one of the draws of roast chicken. It really can be as easy as Letty says.
But there are some folks who want to go further. They may baste, brush and rotate the chicken in the pan. They may truss it up like a hostage to keep it juicier.
When Letty has time, she goes a bit further in her preparation, too, brining the chicken for a few hours before cooking. And, since there’s an herb garden on the farm, she may chop up some herbs — thyme, sage, rosemary, for instance — and sprinkle them beneath the skin before cooking. A little butter between the skin and the meat is a good step, too, she says.
The right roasting pan is important, she adds. Hers is cast iron with a top, so she roasts the bird with the top on for the first hour to keep moisture in, then takes the top off for last 15 to 30 minutes to help brown the skin.
Other masters of the kitchen have their own roast chicken rules. Chef Jamie Oliver stuffs herbs and oil between the skin and the breast, creating tender, moist breast meat and crisp skin; the late Julia Child brushed hers with butter for delicious skin.
Like British food maven Nigella Lawson says: “You could probably get through life without knowing how to roast a chicken, but the question is, would you want to?”
Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken
1 whole chicken (we used a 4.7-pound chicken, although Rodgers prefers a 3-pound bird)
4 (1/2-inch-long) herb sprigs (thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage)
3/4 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt per pound (3 1/2 teaspoons for 4.7 pounds)
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
Two to three days before cooking, remove any lumps of fat around the opening of the cavity. Pat very dry with paper towels inside and out. Gently slide your finger under the skin on both sides of the breasts and the thickest part of the thigh, making pockets. Slide the herbs under the skin.
Season the chicken with the salt and pepper, seasoning more heavily around the thicker sections like the breast than the skinny wings and leg tips. Sprinkle a little just inside the cavity, along the backbone. Tuck the wing tips under the back. Cover loosely and refrigerate two to three days.
Heat oven to 475 degrees. Choose a shallow roasting pan, a 10-inch skillet or an ovenproof baking dish that’s barely larger than the chicken. Preheat over medium heat. Wipe the chicken dry and place it, breast up, in the pan; it should sizzle.
Place in the center of the oven. After 20 minutes, it should be sizzling and browning; if it isn’t, increase the heat 25 degrees (if it’s browning too fast or smoking, reduce the heat by 25 degrees). After 30 minutes, turn the chicken breast-down. Roast 10 to 20 minutes longer, depending on size. Turn breast-up and roast 5 to 10 minutes, or until the thickest part of the thigh is 155 degrees.
Remove from oven and let stand 5 to 10 minutes. Carefully pour off the clear fat from the pan, leaving the drippings. Add about 1 tablespoon water to the hot pan and swirl it. Add any juices from the chicken, bring to a boil, then serve with the chicken.
Yield: 4 servings.
— From “The Zuni Cafe Cookbook” by Judy Rodgers
Julia Child’s Roast Chicken
1 large chicken (we used a 4.95-pound bird, but you can go up to 7)
1 tablespoon softened butter
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Sprinkle a little salt inside the cavity. Truss the chicken, using kitchen string to tie the legs together and tie the neck skin and tuck the wing tips under the back. Rub the chicken with the butter and place breast-up on the rack of a roasting pan.
Place the roasting pan with the chicken on the lower-middle rack in the oven. Roast 10 minutes. Turn the chicken on one side and continue roasting 10 minutes. Baste with accumulated pan juices (a heatproof brush is faster than a bulb baster), turn the chicken over and continue roasting for 10 minutes.
Reduce oven to 350 degrees. Baste again quickly. After 10 minutes, turn the chicken on its other side, sprinkle lightly with salt, strew the carrots and onions in the pan and baste again. After 10 minutes, turn the chicken breast-side up and continue roasting, basting occasionally, until the thickest part of the thigh reaches 155 degrees.
Remove from oven and let stand 20 minutes. Spoon off all but about a tablespoon of fat from the roasting pan. Place over high heat and stir about 1/2 cup of chicken stock and 1/2 cup dry white wine into the drippings. Bring to a boil until it is reduced and syrupy, then stir in a tablespoon of butter. Serve with the sliced chicken.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings.
— From “The Way to Cook,” by Julia Child
Contact Shawn Ryan at email@example.com or 423-757-6327.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service contributed to this story.