A whole roasted chicken is a dish that is so simple and basic — easy enough for a weeknight dinner, but also elegant enough to serve for a Saturday night dinner party. It is also a starting point for making a variety of other dishes for nearly any meal of the day, be it chicken salad or a chicken broth-based soup. Yet, the whole bird is often forgotten when shopping for chicken at the market. "Many home cooks choose plain boneless, skinless breasts over the more economical whole bird," Mindy Fox, author of A Bird in the Oven and Then Some, explains. "It’s how “our culture has trained us.”
In her book, Fox has taken the beloved and classic roast chicken and put it in a new light to show off its versatility. She has developed 20 different new and delicious recipes for roasting chicken, and offers over 50 additional recipes for making sure no part of the bird goes to waste. We recently had a chance to talk with her about all things chicken.
For Easy Entertaining
Many home cooks are intimidated by roasting a whole chicken at home, and have given up on ever learning how, instead purchasing still-hot rotisserie birds from the market. For a dinner party, though, nothing comes close to a home-roasted chicken for an easy and impressive dish to serve a small crowd. The aroma of a bird roasting never fails to welcome in guests (and make them hungry). As a hostess, a roast chicken doesn’t consume your attention like searing fish or making risotto does, thus allowing you the freedom to tend to your guests, or set the table. When you bring the bird to the table, it’s rich, golden color and crispy skin is sure to catch your guests' attention. And after the first bite of the moist and tender meat — with “so much flavor,” Fox points out — you and your guests will be tempted to swear off those bland and dry boneless breasts all together.
For a Money-Saving Meal
Credit: Ellen Silverman
Even if you’re not hosting a sit-down dinner party, roasting a whole chicken is an economical meal option, and a great “get-ahead” dish, according to Fox. If you roast three birds, you’ve got enough chicken meat to make chicken salad sandwiches for your kid’s birthday party, a Moroccan-infused tart for a cocktail party dish, or Chinese steamed buns for a special Sunday night dinner.
Credit: Ellen Silverman
When testing all the recipes for the book, Mindy found a new love for her freezer. As she was often roasting two or three birds at once, but only feeding herself and her husband, she was left with a large surplus of meat — yet, not a morsel was wasted. After using the meat to develop other recipes calling for roast chicken, she froze the carcasses and necks to make chicken stock. Any stock she didn’t need was then frozen for future use, too, along with remaining shreds of meat, as “it freezes quite well," Fox explains. It's just the thing to have on hand when whipping up a meal for impromptu guests.
Tips for Roasting Chicken
Talking with an experienced chicken roaster (she did roast about 100 birds), of course our conversation drifted from roasting chickens for a dinner party to the proper equipment, and techniques, to use for the perfect end result.
While Mindy did test both roasting chickens at a low heat for a long period of time and high heat for a much shorter duration, she ultimately prefers a higher temperature (about 425 for one hour), as is found in most of the recipes in the book. She recalls, "it was how I started, and it worked out well, so why did I have to spend more time roasting each bird?”
There is no need to invest in a special roasting pan when roasting chickens, either. When roasting two or three birds, nothing is wrong with putting them together on the same rimmed baking pan, as long as it fits in your oven. If you like to roast your bird atop a variety of potatoes and vegetables, you could roast the bird in a roasting pan; Fox prefers roasting it alone in a snug-fitting oval gratin dish with 2-inch sides that is also perfect for bringing the bird directly to the table. With a snug pan, “the juices stay with the bird with no drying out or burning,” she explains, “and I found that these smaller pans did something magical to the bird, cooking and crisping the skin near the bottom wonderfully.”
What Mindy Serves with a Roast Chicken
So, after consuming every last morsel of each bird, does Fox still turn to roast chickens when entertaining? Yes. While the cold winter weather makes her more inclined to serve rich, warm dishes like cassoulet or braises, the one-pot meals, like a roast chicken, will always remain her go-to dinner party dish. She pairs the meat with light vegetable salads that are “not too crazy with too many flavors.” She prefers simple yet aromatic dishes like roasted beets or fennel dressed with olive oil and maybe a garnish of toasted nuts. And for dessert? She serves something easy that “guests can interact with,” like fruits, chocolate, and some walnuts to crack.