Table for One

Engagement Roast Chicken for When You're Getting Married (to Yourself)

Our solo dining columnist on the comforts of cooking for one.

by:
March  8, 2019
Photo by Julia Gartland

Table for One is a column by Senior Editor Eric Kim, who loves cooking for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms.


"You could probably get through life without knowing how to roast a chicken, but the question is, would you want to?"

I imagine Nigella Lawson posing this question to the readers of her first book, How to Eat, while pulling a bronzed and winsome roast chicken out of the oven. In this image, as well, she's levitating a couple of inches off the ground and telekinetically floating the roasting pan to the dining table, which sets itself à la Beauty and the Beast.

She then turns to the camera and says, "I was never just a domestic goddess."

This roast chicken recipe has gone through many iterations over the years, ever since my first attempt at 20 years old, flipping through the chewy language of Lawson's How to Eat in my tiny Manhattan kitchenette, with a gas oven that somehow undercooked and burned everything at once. Tweaked according to my current tastes (now with carrots, red onions, and croutons instead of potatoes and garlic, with flaky sea salt and black pepper instead of the cumin and cinnamon I once adored), my roast today chicken is simple and straightforward.

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Top Comment:
“It's been years since I made a whole roast chicken for my singleton table. The last time I cooked one, I followed a pastiche of recipes that explained allowing the bird to sit uncovered overnight in the fridge to ensure crackling skin. At the time, I felt a bit guilty for fussing so much for "just me," but I made the effort, roasting the chicken on a bed of small new potatoes, wedges of carrots and quartered Vidalia onions with sprigs of rosemary and a 3 heads of garlic scattered among the root vegetables. Holy anointed saints of cooking-that meal was a masterpiece. the skin was as crisp as parchment and for the first time in my life, I savored chicken skin. No flab, no fattiness, nothing rubbery. Pure crunch and crackle. And that bed of veggies! They were a sensuous landscape of earthiness, unctuousness and sweetness. I added a baguette to my dinner so I could smoosh soft roasted garlic cloves onto torn off hunks, then dip a bit of the bread into the cooking juices, then wash it all down with a chilly, oaky white wine. I enjoyed that hen in various forms all week long. Thank you for the reminder of the joy and ease of making this meal, Eric. A secret culinary party for the well deserving singleton. Cheers! <3”
— Whiteantlers
Comment

While I may not have mastered the art of levitation just yet, the feat of pulling a perfect roast chicken out of the oven—for myself and for myself alone—has always felt like a celebration of my independence and a testament to my self-sufficiency. Indelible proof that if I can do this, then I can do anything. In the name of sologamy, then, it only makes sense that I call this recipe Engagement Roast Chicken.

It's a commitment to the person I love most: me.

The original Glamour magazine recipe flaunted that a lemony roast chicken is the key to getting a man to propose to you. But I've always hated the lore (for obvious reasons). New York magazine's Madeleine Aggeler said it best in her humor-cooking column, Over Easy: "The concept of Engagement Chicken is a bizarre, regressive idea that should probably be retired. But it’s true that roast chicken is an amazing date-night dish, whether that date is with your partner, your friend, or just yourself."

No matter the occasion or the experience level of the cook, roast chicken is always impressive—and it is, for me, always home food. I'd never order roast chicken at a restaurant, no matter how perfect I know it'll be, because I associate it so much with the gentle hummings of the kitchen and the inimitable comforts of domesticity. Which means: at my own table, with my own things. My own chicken.

I do feel that we singletons don't treat ourselves enough to roast chicken, which is a shame because it's probably one of the easiest, most hands-off dishes to cook at home. I suppose the obvious reason for this is that a whole bird is hardly a single serving.

But therein lies its beauty: Roast a chicken once, and eat for days. It's an utterly false notion that this dish—no matter how magnificent it may be—should be reserved solely for dinner parties or large-format Sunday suppers with the family.

I roast chickens for myself all the time. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I roast two birds at once as Lawson's mother did (one for Sunday lunch and the other to be picked at throughout the week), but I certainly go through a couple chickens a month. I find great comfort in knowing that my fridge is stocked with at least two to three more meals (after the initial dinner).

There's comfort in the cooking, too.

At the store, I sift through the poultry bin for the smallest bird I can find, usually a cutie between 3 to 3 1/2 pounds. I pick up a single lemon, a red onion, and a small batch of carrots. When I get home with my bounty, I preheat the oven and pour myself a glass of wine, usually a Santa Barbara chardonnay (which I order by the case). This is the point at which I also put on the bath, turn on a Crosby, Stills & Nash record, and feed my dog Quentin her nightly supper of kibble and raw carrots (her eyes aren't so great these days).

Carrots for the eyes. Photo by Eric Kim
Bread for the heart. Photo by Eric Kim

As the tub fills with hot water, I tear up a sourdough boule with my hands and set it aside for later. I chop the carrots and onions, tossing them with some olive oil, salt, and pepper on a quarter sheet pan. I unwrap the chicken from its plastic and dry it off with paper towels (which helps the skin crisp up later). Then, I massage the bird with olive oil and season it generously with freshly ground black pepper and flaky sea salt (which aids to the crispiness by forming an addictive textural crust). I cut the lemon in half and insert one of the halves into the cavity, which will roast and caramelize in the oven, scenting the chicken like the groves of Amalfi.

You could probably get through life without knowing how to roast a chicken, but the question is, would you want to?
Nigella Lawson

This is crucial: I do not truss the bird. Partially because I'm lazy, and partially because I feel that it makes no major difference at the end of the day. (Remember, this is home food.) I merely lay the chicken over the carrots and onions, flat.

Sheet-pan roast chicken for one, ready to go. Photo by Eric Kim

How Long to Roast a Chicken

The temperature and cooking times for a properly roasted bird depend really on your preference. If you're Lawson, per How to Eat, you'll roast your chicken at 400°F for 15 minutes per pound, plus an extra 10 minutes. If you're Barbara Kafka, you'll crank up the heat to 500°F for 50 to 60 minutes (for a 5- to 6-pound bird). (This has been my Genius colleague Kristen Miglore's tried-and-true method for years.)

I prefer a middle ground between the two (if only because it's the way I've been doing it for years), which is to say: For crispy, crackly roast chicken skin with wonderfully juicy meat, try 425°F for 15 minutes per pound, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thigh reaches 165°F.

(At this point, as the chicken roasts, I'm free to prune up like a sherry-soaked golden raisin in the tub, sipping on the glass of wine I poured myself 10 minutes ago.)

When my timer rings, I get up from my nightly soak, drain the tub, and head to the kitchen to pull my bird out of the oven. It hasn't been basted (because I had better things to do), which means its skin is crisped up like fried chicken. With two forks, one on each end of the beast, I transfer it to a large, wooden cutting board and let it rest for at least 10 minutes, if not more.

Meanwhile, I prepare the carrot panzanella (Tuscan bread salad). Which is also easy. In a medium mixing bowl, I dress the roasted veggies with a spicy, lemony vinaigrette, and while they sit to marinate, I toss the torn bread pieces (remember those?) into the now-empty sheet pan, gloriously slicked with rendered chicken fat. This goes into the oven until crisped and croutoned, after which I'll throw them in with the lemon-marinated carrots.

I love the taste and texture of crispy, chicken fat–roasted sourdough that's been dressed in a spiky vinaigrette. It maintains its crunch on the outside, yet somehow gains an addictive chewiness on the inside. I've always felt that panzanella's greatest trait was this contrasting combination of bread states.

My chef friend was horrified at the paper towel ("You're losing the juices"!), but I find that it's the best way to avoid an inundated cutting board. (Trust me, the chicken is still plenty juicy.) Photo by Eric Kim

My favorite bit: I tear off some of the skin toward the thigh and eat it, standing (because let's face it, chicken "crackling" is the best part). Then, I flip the bird over and pick out the oysters (the second-best part). Finally, I carve off a single breast, especially careful not to rip its skin, and cut against the grain (that is, perpendicular to the long fibers of the meat) into four to five pieces, plating them with a serving of the carrot salad.

I light a candle, pour myself another glass of wine, and sit down to eat.

Ever roast a chicken for yourself? Tell, tell in the comments below.

27 Comments

Mary March 10, 2019
I’m not a singleton, but the glorious time and care in my kitchen is still mostly about me. Thank you for this beautiful article and wonderful tips for making a roast chicken into an enchanted evening. I’m a new reader and look forward to more!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. March 10, 2019
Mary, thank you!
 
Gizelle J. March 10, 2019
Loved this so much! I just made my first singleton roast chicken a couple weeks ago. I had bones for stock, caramelized veg for munching and meat for several meals. And when my mom texted me that it was great food for a date I sent her the eye roll emoji. (I had a date, it was with myself and it was fabulous.) Can't wait to try your recipe!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. March 10, 2019
The self is the best date, really. Thanks for the comment, Gizelle.
 
Linda March 10, 2019
Eric Have read most of your posts and really enjoyed them. I am not a singleton. Come November, God willing, I will be married for 47 years. But I am a singleton in the case of roast chicken because my husband will not eat chicken unless it is spicy hot, Thai, or disguised in Mexican food with a ton of hot sauce. So I have been ordering it when we eat out but after reading this recipe I will be doing if just for me. Thanks for all your great posts
 
Author Comment
Eric K. March 10, 2019
Linda, thank you so much for reading. You should absolute roast a chicken for yourself, enjoy it alone, then turn the leftovers into a spicy enchilada. Mmm.
 
Mark March 10, 2019
this article is brilliant, I usually just make a gravy from those delicious pan juices. Never thought of a toasted salad like that, I will have to try that out next chicken I do.

I'm also a Hendricks man, but I like mine with tonic, rosemary and cucumber.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. March 10, 2019
Thanks, Mark! Your gin and tonic sounds refreshing.
 
Joanie922 March 10, 2019
I love a roast chicken. I used to cook them more when married, but recently cooked one...and remembered why I love so much. My problem is carving it, but I'm going to learn how.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. March 10, 2019
The only part I really carve is the breast. For the rest, I just use my hands :)
 
Kanta P. March 10, 2019
I didn’t see any oyster in the ingredients... anchovy, yes!?
 
Author Comment
Eric K. March 10, 2019
Hi Kanta! By "oysters," I was referring to the two oyster-sized pockets of meat on the bottom of the chicken. You can read about them here: https://food52.com/blog/23238-best-part-of-roast-chicken-what-are-chicken-oysters
 
Jean B. March 10, 2019
I’m glad I found you I’m new to living alone. My husband died. I’m trying to learn how to be alone happily as possible
 
Author Comment
Eric K. March 10, 2019
Hi Jean, I'm so sorry for your loss. May you find peace in your new life.

Have you watched this show? https://www.netflix.com/title/80209379 You may find Season 1, Episode 4 helpful.
 
Shane L. March 8, 2019
Roast chicken is definitely a favorite, mostly because it can be crafted into a few different meals over the next two or three days.
I always start with a Gin & Tonic, and a little dancing to All That Meat and No Potatoes :D
 
Author Comment
Eric K. March 8, 2019
What’s your gin of choice?
 
Shane L. March 8, 2019
Ransom Old Tom has been my favorite as of late. However, I picked up a bottle of Roku the other day, and it’s quite nice.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. March 8, 2019
Delicious. I’m a Hendrick’s man myself.
 
Shane L. March 8, 2019
Excellent choice! What’s your go to tonic?
 
Author Comment
Eric K. March 8, 2019
Vermouth! I have my gin in a martini, actually.
 
Shane L. March 9, 2019
Signor Martini,
I’m such a dirty boy.
xoxoxo
 
Whiteantlers March 8, 2019
Such a delightfully well written reminder to love thy self! It's been years since I made a whole roast chicken for my singleton table. The last time I cooked one, I followed a pastiche of recipes that explained allowing the bird to sit uncovered overnight in the fridge to ensure crackling skin. At the time, I felt a bit guilty for fussing so much for "just me," but I made the effort, roasting the chicken on a bed of small new potatoes, wedges of carrots and quartered Vidalia onions with sprigs of rosemary and a 3 heads of garlic scattered among the root vegetables. Holy anointed saints of cooking-that meal was a masterpiece. the skin was as crisp as parchment and for the first time in my life, I savored chicken skin. No flab, no fattiness, nothing rubbery. Pure crunch and crackle. And that bed of veggies! They were a sensuous landscape of earthiness, unctuousness and sweetness. I added a baguette to my dinner so I could smoosh soft roasted garlic cloves onto torn off hunks, then dip a bit of the bread into the cooking juices, then wash it all down with a chilly, oaky white wine. I enjoyed that hen in various forms all week long.

Thank you for the reminder of the joy and ease of making this meal, Eric. A secret culinary party for the well deserving singleton. Cheers! <3
 
Author Comment
Eric K. March 8, 2019
You paint such a delicious picture as always. Cheers, friend.
 
CameronM5 March 8, 2019
Note to self: Take a bath while roasting chicken and drinking wine. There is literally no better way to spend and evening 😝
 
Author Comment
Eric K. March 8, 2019
Multi-tasking has its rewards.
 
Ella Q. March 8, 2019
Lovely piece! I felt more relaxed just reading it. Next up: actually roasting a chicken for one.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. March 8, 2019
:)