They Called Me Martha – The Perfect Roast Chicken
January 16, 2011 § 9 Comments
A perfect roast chicken starts with a delicate, crispy skin and ends with moist, juicy meat inside and this recipe achieves both. The skin is beautifully golden in color and flavor by brushing the chicken with a little melted butter before roasting and the pan juices from the chicken, sweet carrots, fennel, and onion keep the meat moist upon serving.
This recipe is from Ina Garten, whom I just love. Almost any recipe I make of hers is a sure win – and what’s better, she eats mostly chicken so she always has some inspiring recipe for me. I’ve now made her Perfect Roast Chicken several times and I can say, it is actually quite perfect. In fact, I recently hosted a holiday party for my girlfriends and when I pulled out my two beautiful roast chickens from the oven, one of them even called me “Martha” – as in the infamous Martha Stewart.
What makes this chicken so perfect is not only the tender, juicy meat it yields, but the simplicity in making it. Aside from chopping up some vegetables and applying easy seasonings, it requires very little effort. I think my favorite part of this dish is the fact that you stuff the chicken cavity with lemon and garlic without even a need to chop, peel, or squeeze! A simple cut in half and if it fits, it works. This chicken calls for a lot of fresh thyme, which adds a very perfumed flavor to the vegetables and sauce. If you’re not a fan of thyme you could easily substitute with rosemary or a combination of herbs of your choice.
Now, I will say – one area where Ina let me down: directions on cooking time. I am one of those “is the chicken really done?” fanatics. You’d think with as much chicken as I eat and cook I’d pretty much know when a chicken is done, but sadly I do not and I end up having to cut my chicken breasts in half when cooking to ensure they are really cooked through. So, when I watched Ina make this on TV, she made it sound so simple to determine if the chicken was done – just cut between the leg and the breast and if the juices run clear – voila, its done.
Or not… In Ina’s fairness, her recipe calls for a larger chicken so I had assumed using a smaller chicken would significantly cut down on cooking time. Thus, when I made this the first time for my family, they arrived hungry and eager, I pulled these impressive looking chickens out and they all “oohed” and “awed”. I made the cut as Ina instructed and once I saw that it was only clear juices running out, I happily covered it and let it rest for 20 minutes while waiting anxiously to try it. When I went back to carve what I was sure would be my new masterpiece, I was devastated to find nearly raw chicken at the bone. Back in the oven it had to go and my family was left waiting for another 40 minutes for dinner. In the end though, it was a delicious chicken worth the wait.
I’ve made this chicken multiple times now so I’ve pretty much got the cooking time down but the lesson learned is: Stab your chicken! No, not really. But I do like to make several cuts around the chicken just to be sure – better safe than sorry, especially when entertaining. The reason this is so important is because you really want the chicken to rest 20 minutes, so you’ve got to know its finished cooking. Once you do have the cooking time down on this chicken though, it’s indeed worth it. As I said, it takes minimal effort and yields a very elegant meal perfect for a quiet dinner at home for 2 or for entertaining for several friends. If you’re feeling really motivated, you could serve with crispy roasted potatoes or garlicky mashed potatoes, which would be a nice accompaniment.
For this recipe I have found a 3 pound chicken to work best. If I’m cooking it just for me and my husband I’ll do one chicken but if I want leftovers or cooking for several, I’ll buy two chickens. This is a great recipe to do with 2 chickens (double the veggies) and have extra leftover for a chicken noodle soup or enchiladas the next night. What’s even better is I’ve found a little market near my home where I can buy all my ingredients for about $10 – that’s for 2 chickens and all the veggies – you can’t beat that!
Preheat the oven to 425. Rinse the inside and outside of the chicken and pat dry. Cut any excess fat. Sprinkle the cavity with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Cut a lemon and head of garlic in half and insert in the cavity with a good bunch of fresh thyme. Once the cavity is stuffed, tie the legs together with twine. Meanwhile, melt a tablespoon of butter. Once melted, brush the outside of the chicken with the butter making sure to reach the sides and legs. Sprinkle the top of the chicken with more salt and pepper.
Peel and chop 4 carrots, 1 yellow onion, and 1 bulb of fennel. If you’ve never worked with fennel before, it’s got almost a licorice-like smell and adds a nice flavor to the sauce. Cut the top of the bulb so that you’re left with something that resembles an onion. I like to remove the outermost layer then just cut as you would an onion.
In your roasting pan mix all the chopped veggies with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme. Note: If you don’t have a roasting pan, you could put this in anything that will hold it, such as a large casserole dish or lasagna pan. Now, a word on the thyme – if you don’t mind it being really rustic, you could just throw a handful of thyme in whole with the veggies. My husband isn’t such a fan of this method so I skim the leaves off the stems and chop it up. Finally, add the chicken on top of the veggies.
That is it! Your chicken is done and ready to go into the oven for about an hour and a half. Keep an eye on it that the skin doesn’t burn – if the skin is getting too brown you can cover with aluminum foil. Baste a few times while it’s cooking to add flavor to the skin.
When you’re sure the chicken is done, remove from the oven and cover the pan with foil to let it rest for 20 minutes. After resting, carefully remove the chicken and lift vertically to let all the juices inside the cavity come out and into the pan. If you love lemon, you can pull out the lemon from the cavity and give it a squeeze into the sauce – be careful as it will be exremely hot.
To carve the chicken, start with the legs and wings and remove. Then cut at the center near the bone and follow your knife down the bone to remove the breast. Slice the breast as desired. Make sure you pour the sauce from the pan over the chicken as that is the key to keeping it moist and giving it unbelievable flavor. Serve hot and enjoy!
1 3Ib. fryer chicken
1 yellow onion
1 fennel bulb
20 sprigs thyme
1 tbsp. butter
Salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 425. Rinse inside and outside of the chicken and pat dry. Cut any excess fat. Sprinkle the cavity with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Cut a lemon and head of garlic in half and insert in the cavity with half the fresh thyme. Tie the legs together with twine.
- Melt a tablespoon of butter and brush outside of the chicken with the butter making sure to reach the sides and legs. Sprinkle the top of the chicken with more salt and pepper.
- Peel and chop 4 carrots into bite size pieces, about 1 inch long. Cut 1 yellow onion and 1 bulb of fennel in slices. Add vegetables to roasting pan with olive oil, salt, pepper, and remaining thyme.
- Place chicken on top of vegetable mixture in pan and roast in oven for an hour and a half or until done.
- Remove and cover chicken with aluminum foil for 20 minutes. Carve and serve with pan sauce over the chicken.
For the original recipe from Ina Garten, click here.