Optimizing Chicken Basics

Optimizing Chicken Basics

Perfectly roasted chicken may be the most healthy comfort food ever.  With the cooler weather we’re craving roasts and since a little prep work goes a long way during a busy week, I wanted to share some foolproof successes I’ve had with roasting chicken and making stock.

Roasted chicken is lean yet satisfying, even comforting.  A serving delivers almost all your daily protein needs, and while dark meat is a bit fattier it also delivers zinc, Vitamin B and iron, which white meat does not.  Roasted chicken is convenient, since 5-10 minutes of prep time yields a very large return.  After dinner and leftovers, you can make stock with the chicken carcass for use in risotto, sauces and soups.  I’ll cover everything from sourcing to stock below:


I live near the Union Square farmer’s market in New York City, where I purchase all of our chicken.  Why?  B/c it has never been frozen and I trust the nothing artificial, our-chickens-run-around-outdoors claims.  Why?  B/c it looks and tastes so much better.  Aside from the farmer’s market, I feel that organic, free range chicken is a must for not just flavor but because I do not want to ingest or serve whatever it is that makes chickens grow bigger breasts and smaller wings!  There are also humane reasons for choosing free range.  The all-natural option is more expensive, which is another reason to make chicken stock – we can really stretch our dollars.


I’ve tried several recipes and lately I’ve gone back to the basics – roast at 425 for 20 minutes per pound.  (This equation also has proven to ensure reaching the safe-to-eat temperature of 167 degrees F.)  I have tested this twice in the past three weeks with consistently excellent results, including with preparation variations.   Here are two versions:

Preheat oven to 425.

Assemble ingredients first (so you won’t be constantly washing your hands, having handled the raw bird), and set out a heavy duty pan with a 2″ rim.

Version One – Classic:

– 5 cloves garlic, peeled, some cut in half, some whole

– 2 onions, peeled and quartered

– 2 carrots, cut into baby carrot sized pieces

– Fresh herbs, ideally rosemary, sage and thyme, 2-3 stalks each

– 2 generous pats of butter

– Salt & pepper

– Kitchen twine cut into 8″ length

Version Two – Lemon:

– 5 cloves garlic, peeled, some cut in half, some whole

– 1 & 1/2 fresh lemons, skin on, quartered

– Fresh herbs, same as Version 1

– 2 generous pats of butter

– Salt & pepper

– Kitchen twine cut into 8″ length

Steps for either Version:

– Place bird in the heavy-duty pan.   Remove any extra parts that have been included in the cavity of the bird (neck, feet, liver).  Set aside any non-organ parts for stock.  During cleanup, you’ll safely store these parts – cover and refrigerate – until they are ready for use in the stock.

– Hold the bird upright and into the cavity of the bird, drop a few pieces of garlic.  Then, one of each of the stalks of herbs, then one or two onions or lemon quarters.  Repeat this order until the cavity is full.  It’s okay if the items shift around.

– Place the chicken flat again in the roasting pan.  Facing the cavity, pick up the skin that is just above the cavity.  It is very easy to separate the skin from the breast meat.  One side at a time, on each side of the cavity hold up the skin up with one hand and place fingers of the other hand just under the skin, pressing down on the meat as you lift the skin.  Do so just enough to create a small opening between the skin and meat.  Into each opening, insert the remaining stalks of herbs, plus one pat of butter per side.  (If the butter scares you, keep in mind that Julia Child smothered the entire bird in butter and everything was just fine.)

– Again facing the cavity, gently pull the legs towards you and lay one on top of the other, as shown above.  Tie them with the kitchen twine.

– If you are using Version One, place the carrots in the pan around the chicken.

– Wash your hands

– Liberally sprinkle the outside of the chicken with salt and pepper.

– Place pan in the oven and immediately set your timer based on the 20 minutes per pound equation.

– When you remove the chicken from the oven, tent with foil and let it rest for ten minutes before carving.

Take Stock

We recently had a bolognese sauce that was transformed by homemade chicken stock.  Any recipe that calls for chicken stock will benefit from the homemade version!

A note about preparation.  If time and schedule allows, the most efficient way to make homemade stock seems to be to do so immediately after, or at least the same day, you’ve roasted and carved the bird.  I’ve successfully re-heated chicken for dinner that I roasted earlier in the day.  This way you’re moving through the motions from start to finish, vs adding ‘make chicken stock’ to your to-do list the following day.   That being said, you certainly can make stock the next day.  This recipe works either way.

You’ll need cheese cloth, kitchen twine, and a large stockpot.


– 2-3 onions, peeled and quartered

– 3-4 stalks celery, leaves included if possible, cut in half lenghwise and into 3-4 pieces each

– 2 carrots cut into baby carrot sized pieces

– 1-2 stalks each of rosemary, thyme and sage

– Any chicken parts you have saved from the roasting step – feet, neck, and/or, thigh bones from dinner!

– Salt and pepper

– Water


– Make a sachet using the fresh herbs, cheese cloth and kitchen twine.  This extra step will be worth it later – when you drain the stock it will be free from bits of herb that will not fly in future recipes!


– Place the celery, carrots, onion and herb sachet into the stockpot.  Add salt and pepper liberally – if from a mill, 8-10 turns.  Doing so at this point allows you to sweat the ingredients a bit, extracting flavor!  Also once you’ve added the chicken and water, it becomes more difficult to judge how much you’ve added.


– Remove any remaining stuffing from chicken carcass and break into two pieces.  Add carcass to pot, plus any other parts.

– Fill pot with water until carcass is floating, using about 6-8 cups or until you’re approximately here:


– Bring water to a boil and then simmer, covered, for 2-3 hours.

– Bring to a boil once more, to further break down of the carcass, then, drain through a colander:


– Transfer into containers and immediately *freeze* for later use.  Do not worry about separating the fat just yet.  Once frozen, the fat will be much easier to skim from the top.


And you’re done!  Cleanup at this point is just your stockpot.  Get ready to taste the best versions of your soups, sauces and risotto ever!

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