Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Roast chicken in cast-iron with pan gravy. Seriously good, and easy.

I make roast chicken a lot...about every week.  The best roast chicken I've ever had was at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco.  After the meal, I bought the cookbook to get my hand on that chicken recipe.  I've made the chicken and it's great, but the recipe is picky, takes a long time (dry brining for days, kind of length), and you have to find a 2.5 pound chicken.  All in all, it's not a make-every-week type of recipe.

So, I fall for it every time a cooking magazine claims to have the "Easiest Recipe for the Best Roast Chicken EVER!"  The variations include cooking low and slow...cooking high and fast....flipping the chicken half-way through...shoving herb butters under the skin....etc. etc.  Each time, I am disappointed.  At our house, we like just salt and pepper, plain-jane roast chicken, heavy on the crispy skin.  My husband does the dishes, so for him, easy clean-up is equally important (so much so, that I actually tried using disposable roasting pans).

The standard is to roast a chicken in a roasting pan with a rack--I suppose the reasoning being that the hot air can circulate around, crisping the skin on all sides and the chicken doesn't steam in the accumulating juices.  For some reason, it just doesn't work that way at my house; the bottom is always pale and thick with fat, and then there's a ton of annoying dishes to clean.  Cleaning a roasting rack is a pain (and I don't even have to do it!). 

But one day as I was preheating my oven for roast chicken night, I spotted my cast iron pan (which had been pulled out of it's home inside the oven).  The chicken fit, so it it went.  When it came out, it was a very fine roast chicken indeed.  The bottom was even browned, with most of the fat rendered out.  And with that beautiful fond on the bottom of the pan, I couldn't help but make a pan gravy.  Outstanding.  Here's the recipe:

Roast Chicken in Cast Iron
Whole chicken, 4.5-5 lbs.
Salt & pepper
Olive oil
Fresh herbs, if you have them around (rosemary, thyme, sage)

Preheat oven to 425F.  Remove gizzards and neck from chicken.  Discard or make stock.  Thoroughly pat dry the inside and outside of the chicken with paper towels and place in your (well-seasoned) cast-iron pan.  Drizzle oil on the chicken and use your hands to rub it into the skin.  Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.  Don't be stingy.  Put the herbs in the cavity--if you don't have any, don't worry.  The success of the dish doesn't depend on it.  I don't truss my chickens (or turkeys for that matter).  I don't think it is necessary and it's harder to tug at a leg to check for doneness if they are all trussed up.  But I do tuck the wing tips under the breast.  Then, put chicken in oven.  After about 45 minutes, insert temperature probe into the thickest part of the breast.  I know, recipes always say the thigh, but in my hands, the thigh comes up to temperature before the breast does.  Once it hits 165F, pull from the oven and remove to a cutting board to rest for at least 15 minutes.  Spoon off all of the fat from the pan and save it for the gravy.

Now, you may not want to make the pan gravy, but there are two good reasons to do so:  1)  you get gravy! and 2) you are actually starting to clean the pan by making it.  By deglazing the pan during gravy making, you forgo having to soak and scrub--which is better for your pan, too.  Plus, it gives you something to do while you are resting the bird. 

Pan Gravy
Reserved fat drippings
AP flour (1-2 T.)
Chicken stock (or my new favorite, water and chicken stock concentrate like "Better than Bouillon")
Fresh herbs, if you have them (rosemary, thyme, sage)

Using a silicon-coated whisk or another non-metal utensil, whisk 2 Tablespoons of fat with 2 Tablespoons of flour in the pan over medium heat.  Continue whisking as you pull up browned bits from the bottom of the pan and start to cook out the raw flour taste, 1 minute or so.  Add 1.5 cups of chicken stock, stirring constantly.  Reduce the heat and add the herbs.  Add stock or water until desired consistency.  Check for seasoning, add salt and pepper to taste.

Voila!  Easiest and best roast chicken EVER, with the added bonus of easy clean-up.  And gravy.  Enjoy!

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