when i grew up i ate a lot of chicken. my mom, without fail, would make one roast chicken a week. i have a distinct memory of whining (in an outdoor voice) “chiiiiiicken?! again?! i’m sick of chicken!” oh what i wouldn’t do to again have my mom making me dinners after the end of a long day, particularly roast chicken. done well it is a delicious, simple, and filling dinner. yet, while i know the process of roasting a chicken is quite simple, it always has intimidated me a little. i don’t know how to carve it, do i have to tie it’s legs, i don’t want salmonella all over my kitchen, how do i know if i cooked it long enough so i don’t kill everyone at our table, and so on and so forth. in fact, before this little adventure i had made just one roast chicken. i was living in nashville at the time, had a couple of friends coming over for dinner, and in thinking of what to cook decided, hey, maybe try your hand at a roast chicken! i scanned some of the chickens while at the grocery store, knowing full well i’d just make pasta, when lo and behold i found a five pound chicken for 23 cents. 23 cents. less than a quarter people. it was clearly priced wrong but i thought – what the hell, their mistake, not mine. i went to the self-checkout, scanned my 23-cent chicken, and merrily I went, on my way. it continues to rank as one of the best buys i’ve ever made, hands down. while i’ve had no such luck with my recent chickens, i have found the perfect recipe, one i’ve been making every sunday night, and I thought I would share it here. it’s delicious, it’s simple, and it’s easy peasy clean-up.
i had never heard of the zuni café, located in san Francisco, or its chef, judy rodgers, but after her passing away last year, almost every article i read raved about her roast chicken. then, when i read her recipe on my trusty food and wine, i was half convinced it could be the best roast chicken recipe i’ve ever encountered (spoiler alert: it is). it encourages the use of a smaller chicken, good for brian and i, and only uses a cast iron skillet. Clean-up for a cast iron skillet is the easiest thing in the world. sign. me. up.
quickly, before we get to the recipe, if you never handle chicken be sure to look up some basics on safe handling. don’t put raw chicken on a wooden cutting board, only plastic cutting boards or a plate when seasoning it, and wash your hands meticulously every time after you touch raw chicken so as not to spread germs in your kitchen. those are my basics.
i usually aim to buy a three pound chicken, but have used as large as a 3 ¾ pound chicken with this recipe. i only salt and season my bird the day before, sometimes just a few hours before, and have never found the bird to be dry or tasteless. the recipe suggests seasoning the chicken two days before cooking for bigger birds, but i haven’t had any problems, which could occur since this recipe calls for cooking the chicken at very high temperatures. so just a little fyi there. the day before roasting the bird, i salt and pepper the each side of the chicken, and put four crushed garlic cloves, along with thyme, rosemary or sage, under the skin. i love that there is no mincing or slicing of the garlic, and i’ve used just thyme, just rosemary, and rosemary along with sage as my seasonings - it’s always been delicious. seasoning the chicken takes about five minutes, and i stuff two garlic cloves and accompanying herbs under the skin of each breast. don’t be afraid about ripping the skin or anything like that – just go with the flow, tug and pull a little here and there, and you’ll get the hang of it. i then put the chicken on a plate, cover it, and let it sit in the fridge overnight. the next day i follow the recipe, though i’ve been cooking my bird at 450 instead of 500 degrees, simply because it sets off our fire alarm every damn time i use 500. yay tiny apartment living. so heat your oven to 450 or 500, put your cast iron skillet in the oven for five minutes to heat up, take out the skillet and put in your chicken, breast-side-up, and cook in the oven for approximately 30 minutes. take out of the oven, flip, and cook for approximately 15 more minutes. i find i can cook it 25 minutes breast-side up and 10 minutes on the other side, but perhaps our oven runs hot. we have this lodge cast iron skillet, which I love, i use my trusty tongs and a fork to help flip the bird, and this oxo digital thermometer helps reassure me that my bird is fully cooked and no one is going to die at my dinner table of salmonella poisoning.
i’ve been serving this with a side of sautéed kale or spinach to help keep the meal light, and for brian and i it makes four servings. delicious, easy, economical. it’s on our weekly menu, and will probably stay that way until it starts to get a little warmer out. i’m hoping an easy, defined, and delicious sunday meal will become one of our traditions, and with a roast chicken like this it shouldn’t be hard to do. i hope you enjoy it!