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How to Roast the Perfect Chicken in 10 Simple Steps: It's Easier Than You Think

Roast chicken and chickpeas.
Roast chicken and chickpeas.
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt

"Who's going to teach me to roast a chicken?" I saw my best friend Tweet a few days ago. After a two month-long work trip to Norway, she had come back to the States more determined than ever to eat healthy. And what's healthier than a roasted chicken with a few vegetables tossed in? It's cost-efficient too: A whole roasted chicken can easily feed two people for three meals.

Especially the one that my friend brought over to my house a few days later, after I told her that I'd teach her how to roast a chicken if she supplied one. The massive bird came from Whole Foods, she told me, and was the largest one they had. It was barely $15. Add in the slight cost of the vegetables I was planning to serve as sides and it was a $20 meal that fed four of us that night (with a huge plate of leftovers for the boyfriend to boot).

Roasting a chicken for dinner is not only a cheap way to provide a filling meal, it's also incredibly easy. Set it and forget it. The only trick is that there are a few crucial steps along the way you simply can't skip -- but the good news is that the entire affair only takes 15 minutes at most.

The bare necessities: chicken, salt, butter, carrots, onion, lemon.
The bare necessities: chicken, salt, butter, carrots, onion, lemon.

1. Prep Work

Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees and pull out a roasting pan (if you have a big oven/bird) or a cast-iron skillet. I prefer the skillet for the flavor, and my birds are usually small enough to fit inside.

2. Cavity Check

Clear out the chicken's main cavity if it hasn't been already. Grocery stores increasingly sell pre-cleaned birds, so this is rarely an issue anymore. If you do have to clean it out, set aside those delicious giblets and other parts for a chicken stock.

3. All the Salt

Salt the snot out of the cavity. I like kosher salt. Use whatever makes you happy. But just do not forget to salt the inside of your bird. It doesn't help to just salt the skin on the outside.

How to Roast the Perfect Chicken in 10 Simple Steps: It's Easier Than You Think

4. Stuffing

Stuff the cavity. Since I like to serve my chicken with roasted onions and carrots, I cut off the carrot greens and stuff those inside the chicken along with a lemon cut into quarters. I'll put a few onions in there too if there's room. Other people use fennel or rosemary or thyme or garlic or any combination of herbs and alliums. You really can't go wrong here unless you stuff the chicken with Nutella.

5. Butter, Butter...

Here's the really important part, and the key to an amazing roasted chicken, passed down to me from my mother (who cooks for a living and knows what she's doing). Ready? Separate the skin from the chicken flesh as much as possible without tearing it. Then take some room temperature butter and stuff that butter between the skin and the flesh -- especially in the breast area, where the meat can get the driest. I like to use compound butter for this, as it adds extra flavor, but any salted butter will do.

6. ...and More Butter

Your hands should be nice and buttery now. Wipe the excess off onto the skin of the bird until it's well-coated with butter all the way around. Wash your hands extremely well, with antibacterial soap and the hottest water you can stand, then salt the rest of your chicken lightly all over. You're now ready to put it in the oven! (p.s. Some people like to truss the legs together with twine. This is an aesthetic call. I personally don't care.)

How to Roast the Perfect Chicken in 10 Simple Steps: It's Easier Than You Think

7. Last-Minute Vegetables

If you're cutting up vegetables to roast with the chicken, throw them into the pan or skillet all around the chicken (or underneath if you want the vegetables to catch all the delicious chicken juices and butter that will run off; this works especially well with potatoes). Toss a little olive oil and salt their way for flavor and moisture while roasting.

8. Roasting Time

Roast your chicken for 45 minutes. Check the legs around the 30 minute mark to make sure they're not getting too toasty. They probably will, so tent them with a little foil and put your chicken back in the oven until done.

How to Roast the Perfect Chicken in 10 Simple Steps: It's Easier Than You Think

9. Foiled Again

You know your chicken is finished when you cut into the flesh and the juices run clear. Make sure this happens before you take the chicken out of the oven; otherwise, give it a little more time. Once you remove the chicken from the oven, tent the whole thing with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes to allow the juices to settle in.

10. Let's Eat

Carve and enjoy! Thanks to all that butter trapped between the flesh and skin, your chicken breast should be terrifically moist and flavorful. And if you put some vegetables in with the chicken, they'll be the same.

I served my roast chicken that night with carrots cooked down in mirin, butter and a few different vinegars; sauteed chickpeas with caramelized onions and cayenne pepper; and a green salad with an avocado vinaigrette. But the great thing about a roasted chicken is that it goes with everything, no matter how simple or how fussy your side dishes may be.


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