A rotisserie chicken picked up on the way home from work in a mad dash into the grocery store spells convenience. It’s dinner on the table in a hurry. You can even get all-organic chickens with all-natural ingredients in some better markets. It’s good stuff. However, a home-cooked Whole Roast Chicken with Lemon and Herbs spells real down-home comfort. For all practical purposes, they are the same dish, same bird, same concept, but face it — it’s just not really the same thing. A bird in a bag is a heck of a lot better than a fast-food burger and fries, but it’s like comparing the proverbial apples and oranges — both fruit and round, but that’s about it.
There is little more that satisfies me personally than roast chicken. I love the mouthwatering aroma that fills the house, the sound of the sizzle of the juices in the pan when you open the door to baste the meat, the crackle of the golden-brown skin when the bird is carved. When I go to a world-class restaurant and I really want to see what the chef can do, I don’t order the sous vide signature dish christened with foam or the fancy-pants dish studded with truffles; I order simple, humble roast chicken.
How can something so simple be so hard? We’ve all had dull, flabby, tough chicken both at restaurants and at home. Well, it’s like many recipes. Sometimes the things that are the most challenging in the kitchen are those made of the fewest ingredients. The fewer the ingredients there are in a recipe, the better each individual ingredient has to be, and the better the techniques must be executed in preparing those ingredients. The real secret to a world-class restaurant is that the attention to detail is the same with lowly roast chicken as it is with the really fancy bits and bites.
What makes a roast chicken memorable is the quality of the bird, the freshness of the herbs and the care with which the butter is applied. The temperature at which the chicken is cooked and the balance of flavors of the overall dish impact the final results. Roast chicken must be well-balanced in sour, salty, bitter and even sweet flavors. The chicken as a whole should be judiciously seasoned with good sea salt and freshly ground pepper. The skin should be crisp, and the meat should be tender and juicy. This isn’t world-class restaurant cooking — it’s just paying attention — and now you can do it at home.
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Get the Recipe: Whole Roast Chicken
Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.