Chad Brealey: The Wild And The Innocent


You Might Be an Idiot

...If You Can't Roast a Chicken

The Chicken (with apologies to Gav Martell and Thomas Keller)

At this time of partisan statements and grand political posturing it's important to stand by your own convictions. I am going to stand by one particular tenet: If you can’t roast a whole chicken, you are a complete idiot.

Here’s a quick list of things that are considerably more difficult than cooking a chicken:

  • Putting a diaper on a squirming baby
  • Climbing stars while carrying two large bags of topsoil
  • Programming the clock in a 1988 Cutlass Sierra
  • Ordering dinner at a Pan-Asian restaurant
  • Trying to remember who has the right-of-way at a traffic circle.

The only vaguely complicated aspect of roasting a chicken is the purchasing of the chicken itself.

Here’s how to do this:
Go to a butcher (supermarkets are fine but developing a rapport with your local butcher is going to save your ass on a number of occasions in the future so get on it.)

Choose a fresh chicken—go with the non-medicated type. You're looking for one about 2-3lbs and will probably cost anywhere from $14 - $22. For you first foray, the size of the chicken really doesn’t matter that much. If you are feeding more than 4 people, consider buying two small birds.

Take your chosen chicken home and put it in the sink. It will have a ghastly pale complexion and should resemble nothing you’ve ever ingested from KFC. Unwrap the chicken from its plastic sheath. Reach inside—yup, that’s right—inside, and pull out the neck and possibly a small plastic bag containing the ‘giblets.’ Disregard these bits for the time being as we are not going to be dealing with them on this trip around the block.

Rinse the chicken inside and out. Dry it as best you can with paper towels. Be sure to dry the inside of the bird as well. This seemingly minor step will actually make you look damn good in about an hour and half so don’t skip it.

Turn on the oven to 450 degrees F. Seems hot but don’t worry, it’s perfect.

Find an oven-proof roasting pan, frying pan, or cast-iron pan (the latter is highly recommended). This means nothing that has any exposed plastic, rubber, or anything that would succumb like high heat—the whole thing is going in the oven.

Now, the hardest part. Truss that bird. Tie it up. You could also skip this step but it will lower the cool factor later and if you don’t tie up the bird it’ll end up looking kind of, well, ‘tart-ish’ when it’s done. It will also be more dry if you don’t tie it up.

Find some string—there is specific kitchen twine but you could use pretty much any natural fibre cord. Don’t use dental floss—I know you were thinking it.

Take a reasonably long section and, with the legs of the bird pointing at you, run the string under the bird, take the string and pull it from in between the legs, cross it over and outwards over and around the outer leg joint. Pull it back together in the middle and tie the legs together at the outer joint. Makes sense? No? Thomas Keller will expertly demonstrate the process.

Another staggeringly hard part. Adding salt. You want the skin to crisp up (hence drying the bird earlier…) and the best way to do this is to add salt to dry skin. There is absolutely nothing precise about this exercise. Use a coarse salt, not table salt, and basically drop it from about elbow height from the counter over the bird. Use at least three good pinches of salt for this part.

Smash a couple cloves of garlic and find some thyme and/or rosemary and throw them into the cavity of the bird.

Your bird prep is done.

If you have a roasting rack, great—you can finally use it. Otherwise, grab some celery and make a rough cross-hatch frame for the bird in the bottom of the pan. You don’t want the chicken to sit in its fat so this will get it a bit elevated.

Roughly chop some potatoes or any other hearty edible thing that comes from the earth (squash, turnip, carrots, leeks, onions, etc) into the pan, drizzle some olive oil over the veg/tubers and grind some salt and pepper over them. Drizzle some olive oil over everything that doesn’t look like a chicken.

The penultimate bit—open the oven. Put in the bird. Set timer for 1 hour.

Go do something for an hour.

Take perfect bird out of oven and if you happen to have a thermometer you actually believe in, plunge it into the inside of a leg. It should read 165 degrees. If not, it’s not done.) You can also be sure it’s done by untying one of the legs and wiggling it. It should move freely in the socket.

If it’s done, let it sit under some foil for 10 minutes. Don’t forget to turn off the oven.

If you’re feeling fancy, put some plates in the cooling oven and set the table.

Call folks to the table, pour some wine, sippy cups of milk or a nice IPA and get ready to carve that perfect bird just like you remember that guy in the Norman Rockwell painting doing.

Look what you've done. You’ve got a new tradition and you're no longer an idiot.