a home cook with notions & an appetite
Not even 100 years ago (in 1928, so 84 years ago if we’re being persnickity), one of Hoover’s slogans was the infamous A chicken in every pot, a car in every garage campaign slogan. Actually, Hoover didn’t say it, it was the equivalent of a PAC-sponsored ad, plagiarized from a remark made by Henry IV of France when he said he wanted his realm to be so prosperous that even the lowliest peasants in his kingdom would all enjoy a chicken in a pot every Sunday…much better than the “let them eat cake” quote that was mis-attributed to Marie Antoinette a few hundred years later that led to the beheading incident.
Where was I? Oh, yes, Americans and chickens and Hoover. Back at that time, chicken was actually very expensive. More so than lobster or steak. Our per capita consumption of chicken was in single digits and often less than a pound. (Basically, even if you owned chickens, they were primarily there for egg production and would not be a Sunday dinner until absolutely necessary. Large scale commercial production wouldn’t appear for a decade.) But here we are now, and chicken is cheap dinner. So cheap, that we’ve gone from believing that it was a near-luxury to arguing that it’s cheaper to buy a pre-made rotisserie chicken from the grocery or big-box store than to even fuss with a whole chicken.
Oh, I’m on the internet. So are you. I read various consumer blogs and sites on saving money and I get magazines and they’ve all drunk the kool-aid on the rotisserie chicken. How many articles have we read on “20 Quick Dinners in 10 Minutes with Rotisserie Chicken!” over the years? Articles that would have you believe that because the mega-mart rotisserie chicken is $5, you should accept its smaller weight (24 ounce birds!) and injections of “flavorings” that can include palm oils, trans fats, sugars, msg, high-fructose corn syrup and artificial chemicals designed to resemble citrus flavorings as gospel fact that you can’t cook a chicken on your own for less.
Don’t get me wrong…I’m not anti-convenience or super-organic-natural-holistic. Maybe it’s a prolonged thread I’ve been reading in where individuals argue back and forth on the savings store brands often afford, but deny the ingredient differences (“they’re made in the exact same factories…with different labels!”) even when presented with evidence to the contrary. Maybe I’m just over this idea of accepting that “just slightly cheaper” is what my time is worth in exchange for ingesting things I can’t actually purchase for flavoring my own foods.
Oh, I’m going on and on, aren’t I? To the point, this year, I want to find my holy grail of roasted chicken recipes. Don’t get me wrong, I can roast a chicken. I just want that one go-to recipe that has everything in a roasted chicken you always want – juicy meat, flavorful skin and leftovers you want to reuse.
To start, I’ll use your basic supermarket whole chickens. Generally, it’s Tyson or Perdue around here. I prefer to stick to chickens in the under-5 pound category. They cook in about an hour, which is completely doable on a weeknight after dinner since that cooking is mostly passive. I’m trying to compete with the store chicken and at sales that are around $0.89/lb with a regular price that’s around $1.49/lb, this is the way it goes.
So, keep that in mind. Your 24-oz rotisserie chicken at the grocery at $5 is $2.50/lb. Even if you want to tell me that your rotisserie chicken is 36 ounces, that chicken is $1.36/lb. I personally haven’t seen too many 3-pound $5 rotisserie chickens, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. If bigger chicken does exist, is it really worth saving $0.16/lb if you can make something much, much better with little to no effort? If it were about saving time, you could cook a quick stovetop dinner that night and an oven-roasted chicken dinner at the same time and have the meat ready for any number of those “things to do with rotisserie chicken!” dinners for the next two nights, easy.
Test 1 was from Cooking Light (shocker!). The main reason for picking their Roast Chicken with Potatoes and Butternut Squash was because we actually had one of our surviving squashes from the garden and potatoes fresh from the ground that we’d picked up from the apple folks at the farmer’s market. (This guy is amazing – he’s got breeds of apples you’ve never heard of that he’ll gladly cut open for you…he’s sort of the crack dealer of apples like that.)
The ingredient list is very short:
The bulk of prep in this bird is in the vegetables – which means rinsing the dirt off my potatoes (this takes quite a bit more than you’d imagine when the potatoes are fresh from the farm), peeling and slicing them and peeling and dicing the squash:
My oven is preheating to 400. This is a method that will not involve changing temperatures. I mix my vegetables with half the garlic, butter, salt and pepper and thrown the vegetables into the bottom of a roasting pan that has a roasting rack in it. Things are crowded, but it will be fine. I’ve also sprayed the roasting rack with a bit of Pam.
My chicken is from the mega-mart and was a Tyson under 4 pounds. I’ve had it on the counter for about an hour so it would get to room temperature. Giblets are removed, and I’ve begun separating the skin carefully with my fingers from the breast and thighs. You can see in the photo that a small tear that was present in the skin began to unravel much in the same way that tugging a loose thread on a sweater can lead to terrible things. It isn’t a disaster, but when I put the chicken in the oven, I do my best to arrange that skin over as much of the breast as I can.
The main reason for separating the skin from the breast is to season the meat directly. After all, there’s only so much skin goodness to go around, and chicken meat is pretty bland if not seasoned. The seasoning is made up of the remaining garlic, salt, pepper and sage. Just remember to wash your hands well after this step. I’ve also trimmed the fat from around the neck and broken the wings and tucked them under (a step that never works out as well for me as it sounds):
After seasoning the outside of the bird with salt and pepper, this went into the oven. I started checking the temperature around 50 minutes and took out the bird at just under an hour when he was 165 degrees in the thigh. My tear did lead to a dryer breast on the one side, but I did have a presently flavored chicken. The vegetables were great with the extra chicken fat flavoring, but between not being instructed to dry out the chicken inside and cooking with a lot of root vegetables, I feel that the steam in the oven lead to a skin that was just sort of chewy in spots. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fine bird, but it just wasn’t the one.