One of my favorite food memories is the first time I roasted and butchered a chicken on my own. I was 24 and working part time at a magazine for chefs while I attended culinary school three night a week. See culinary student Marge with a giant immersion blender, below.
During an intro to meat cooking class, we learned how to roast a chicken, then butcher it in eight parts, using various joints, bones and lines of fat as natural guides in the process.
“Chickens were made to help us cut them up without creating too much waste,” the chef-instructor said. I always loved that sentiment.
The day after chicken-roasting class, I bought my very first whole chicken at the supermarket on my way home from work. I rubbed it with butter, salt and pepper and roasted it for 50 minutes in my $19.99 grocery store roasting pan. After pulling the bird out of the oven, I broke it down into eight less-than-perfect parts, then stood at the kitchen counter tearing off bits of crispy skin and thigh meat with my fingers and eating it. I’d never been more proud of a meal in my life.
Several years and many roasted chickens later, I’ve discovered that my favorite method for roasting chicken is in a cast-iron skillet. I learned this technique from one of my favorite cooks and food writers, Mark Bittman. Unbelievably simple and basically foolproof, it always results in crispy skin and moist meat.
Besides the chicken, salt, pepper and oil, all you need are a cast-iron skillet and instant-read digital thermometer. You should invest in both of these tools if you haven’t already. Cast iron is great for conducting heat, meaning you get even cooking throughout and a beautiful crust on the outside of whatever you’re cooking. Not to mention a cast-iron skillet will last you a lifetime with good care.
Instant-read thermometers are wonderful when you get into that anxious, “is it done yet?” territory between minutes 45 and 60 of roasting a chicken. Because of that unfortunate paranoia for undercooked chicken we Americans all seem to share, that 15 minutes could quickly turn dinner into sawdust. This is where the thermometer comes in. Stick it into the meaty part of the thigh, and if it reads anything between 155F and 165F, the bird can come out.
Cast-iron-skillet roast chicken
adapted from Mark Bittman
1 whole cage-free chicken, 3 to 4 pounds
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Method: Put a cast-iron skillet on a low rack in the oven and heat the oven to 500F. Trim the chicken of excess fat and rub it all over with the oil. Sprinkle it generously with salt and pepper.
When the oven and skillet are hot, carefully put the chicken in the skillet, breast side up. Roast for 15 minutes, then turn the oven temperature down to 350F. Continue roasting until the bird is golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the meaty part of the thigh reads 155F to 165F. (Start checking after 45 minutes or so.)
Tip the pan to let the juices flow from the chicken’s cavity into the pan. Transfer the chicken to a platter and let it rest for at least 10 minutes. Carve and serve.