Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.
Today: How to make everyone's favorite humble dinner, with no recipe at all.
Roasting a chicken always makes me feel all Little House on the Prairie, even if tucking a naked bird’s wings behind its shoulders and sending it off into a hot oven wasn’t a routine part of life on the banks of Plum Creek. Still, the exercise is homey like baking a loaf of bread and resourceful like learning to tap your own maple trees. It is simple and rewarding and the only things you really need to do it well are a chicken, heat, and salt.
But don’t roast one tonight because it will feed you for almost a week, or because your homemade stock supply is running dangerously low. Roast a chicken tonight because you need humble food to go with the bottle of red wine you bought. Or because the part of Little House you’re trying to channel is the happy golden years. We’ll just call those first reasons fringe benefits.
Here’s how to roast a chicken, without a recipe:
1. This part is optional, but I like to trim the extra fat that usually hovers around the tail end of the chicken. After you pat the bird dry with a paper towel, trim away the natural excess of fat with a sharp knife or kitchen shears. Then wash your hands and crank the oven to 500° F, like Barbara Kafka taught you.
2. Season the bird. Generously salt and pepper the whole chicken, making sure to get the inside, too. (Is this all feeling a little too simple for you? Add another element by dry-brining ahead of time.) Now stuff the cavity with the aromatics your pantry happens to have. I like to use half a peeled onion, some lemon, and a mess of sturdy herbs like sage and thyme, but follow your heart: Have a bunch of garlic to use up? Peel a few cloves and throw them in. An orange instead of a lemon? Go with it.
3. Here’s the most acrobatic part of the whole gig: Tuck the wings squarely behind the bird’s shoulders before you roast so the wing tips don’t burn under the high heat. Just lift the chicken, fold the wings, and tuck them one at a time -- let the joints of the wing guide the whole process.
4. Roast for about 10 minutes per pound, or until the internal temperature of the chicken is hovering around 165° F. Remember, this number will continue to climb by a few degrees as the bird rests; let it laze for about 10 minutes before you carve. (Unsure of where to take its temperature? Brush up here.) Now’s the time to make a pan sauce, if that’s your speed -- or just throw it on the table, open that wine, and have at it.
Photos by Mark Weinberg