Modern cuisine so often focuses on the latest trends and off-the-grid ingredients. New ideas keep things interesting, but in the process, it’s easy to overlook more unassuming fare.
A new year seemed like a very good time to dig out an old standby–a whole roasted chicken.
Basic as it seems, a brief prep and one unconventional cooking technique is all that’s needed to produce this classic comfort food that’s elegant in its own right. And beyond the juicy, tender meat, you’ll be rewarded with mouthwatering aromas and endless leftover possibilities.
For years, I used high heat and relied on luck or a meat thermometer to prevent an overcooked chicken with dry meat. Eventually, our annual trip to the Greek Food Bazaar made me rethink this frequently used method of cooking.
There, we eat succulent chicken that is literally falling off the bone and utterly delicious. When I learned that the Bazaar method is low and slow, I started experimenting with various oven temperatures and times with the hopes of attaining similarly juicy and tender chicken.
After seeing the idea in a cookbook, I once tried cooking a chicken for 10 hours at 200 degrees F. It tasted good and wasn’t dry, but the chicken was perhaps a little too tender if that’s possible. Even the bones were soft!
After much experimentation, my favorite time and temperature is 275 degrees F for three to four hours. I usually end up setting the oven timer for 3 1/2 hours but, really, you can’t mess up this one.
As a bonus, you can make economical and extremely flavorful stock with the leftover chicken carcass. The bones—along with the pack of giblets that were removed from the chicken–can be refrigerated for several days or even frozen until you have time to make it.
As an extra tip, toss the trimmings from vegetables like carrots, celery, and onions into a zip-top bag and freeze them for later use in stock. As you accumulate more, just add them to the freezer bag. I’ve made some of the richest stock using odds and ends such as mushroom pieces, kale stems, and onion skins. And since the stock veggies get discarded anyway, there’s wisdom in collecting the trimmings. (For my easy method and a few helpful tips, click here.)
- 1 whole chicken (about 5–7 pounds) *
- Half a lemon
- Half an onion
- Dried thyme
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- Remove the pack of giblets from the chicken. Save for use in homemade stock, if desired. Place the chicken in a roasting pan. (I often use a 9×13 Pyrex baking dish.) Put the onion and lemon halves in the cavity of the chicken and sprinkle salt, pepper, and thyme all over the inside and outside.
- Bake, uncovered, at 275 degrees F for 3-4 hours. If chicken is smaller, cook on the low end of the time frame and vice-versa. But really, if you keep the chicken in a half hour longer than intended, it will still taste great. I’ve done this!
- Let the chicken rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.
- *The last time I made this, I used an 8-pound “oven stuffer roaster” and it cooked within the stated timespan as well. A smaller chicken may come to temperature before 3 hours but will not dry out when kept in the oven longer. If you wish to remove from the oven a little early, simply check with a meat thermometer. The thickest part of the thigh should read 180 degrees F.
- If desired, you may also add half a head of garlic and a few sprigs of fresh thyme to the chicken cavity prior to cooking.
- Leftovers are perfect served cold, reheated, or in any recipe that calls for the addition of cooked chicken. Additionally, two chickens can easily be baked at the same time. The cooked meat will keep for about a week in the refrigerator and freezes well. Lastly, a whole chicken makes a convenient and welcome meal when you wish to prepare dinner for a friend.