I tell you, one of the best parts of eating from local farms is the chicken. The chicken is amazing. It's pricey, to be sure—all that grassy real estate is going to cost you—but worth every penny with its amazing flavor, incredible moistness, and crispy skin.
Roasting is the easiest thing to do with chicken, so I do it often, especially in the fall. And, what do you know, fall is here. What a coincidence! Here's what I do and it works every time.
Simple Roast Chicken (print-friendly version)
Five minutes of work, one hour in the oven, and you're done. You can easily roast root vegetables alongside the bird so they baste in the delicious chicken fat. Yum. Just cut them into 1-inch chunks and stir them around a few times during cooking. Be sure to save the chicken carcass to make stock or the best chicken noodle soup you've ever had in your life. Wrapped up tight, you can freeze chicken bones for up to a year.
1 3- to 4-pound chicken, giblets removed, rinsed, patted dry
1 lemon, washed, dried, quartered
3 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled or unpeeled
Several sprigs of fresh thyme or rosemary
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
Rinse the chicken and pat it dry very well. Set it in a large roasting pan. Salt the cavity and stuff it with the lemon quarters, garlic cloves, and herbs. Rub the skin with olive oil and season generously with coarse salt and pepper. Truss the bird with kitchen string so it retains its shape while cooking. This doesn't have to be anything fancy, you just want the wings tucked close to the body so they don't dry out and the legs bundled together over the breast. For my way of trussing, see below.
Roast the chicken in the upper part of the oven for about an hour. You want the breast fairly close to the top of the oven (within 3 or 4 inches) so the radiant heat helps the skin achieve maximum crispiness. Cook until the juices run clear when you pierce the thigh with a knife, or when a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh (without touching the bone) registers 170°F (77°C). Depending on your oven and your chicken, it could take as little as 45 minutes or as long as an hour and 15 minutes. Pay attention to your bird, not the clock.
Let the chicken rest 10 to 15 minutes if you can. This will help keep the juices inside the meat instead of running all over the cutting board. It will also help keep you from burning all the skin off your fingers as you try to section a burning hot chicken with your bare hands. As you can tell from my vivid descriptions, I rarely let the bird rest long enough. Meanwhile, pour the pan drippings into a measuring cup or jam jar and let them sit undisturbed for a few minutes. Then you can easily spoon the fatty top layer off the drippings and discard. What remains is a light but flavorful jus I like to serve at the table. I actually prefer this over gravy. See below for how to carve a chicken, and then serve it up!
[To truss: This is how I do it, which is not the "proper" way, but I care not. It works for me. I cut two arms' length of kitchen string (my arms are short, you may need less). Find the center of the string and place it under the back of the chicken behind the wings. Bring each side of the string up and around the first joint of the wing to encircle it. Pull the string taut as you bring it southward along the creases between the legs and the breasts. The wings should be laying flat against the breasts. Now cross the strings underneath the chicken under what looks like the tail. You should now have the opposite ends of the strings in your hands. Wrap them around the ends of the drumsticks and then tie them together tightly. Knot the string and trim the excess.]
[To carve: Remove the kitchen string. Separate the wings by grabbing the base where they meet the breast and bending at a sharp angle until the joint pops. Then slice through the skin. For the legs, slice down into the crease between the legs and the breast. The light and dark meat are naturally separated here. Bend back the leg in a somewhat unnatural angle until the thigh joint pops, then slice through the remaining meat and skin. The leg can now be cut through the joint where the drumstick and thigh meet (fancy restaurants like to keep them together). For the breast, slice straight down the middle along the vertical breastbone and then follow the angle of the rib cage. It's a guessing game the first time you do this, but then you learn the contours. Be sure to save the carcass for chicken soup. It's soooo good.]