Sunday Roast Chicken

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The chicken holds a strange position in the American diet. On one hand, we eat more chicken than just about anything else; chicken dishes are staples in restaurants, in fast food and in home cooking. On the other hand, most of those chicken dishes don’t taste much like chicken at all.

The American chicken is a monstrous, genetically modified beast, bred for maximum breast meat, without much attention to flavor (or to humane raising practices, for that matter). We eat chickens raised on feedlots, fed meal made from other chickens and laced with massive doses of antibiotics. It tends to be tough and stringy and taste like cardboard, so we fry it in grease or slather it with sauces. It’s a blank slate on which to build a meal, a tasteless carrier for cheese or breading or sauce. It’s protein without passion.

Which brings us to the Sunday roast chicken. My generation doesn’t think to roast chickens, really, since we’re not used to chickens having flavor; our grandparents’ generation, on the other hand, mostly grew up raising chickens, eating fresh eggs and occasionally killing a chicken for Sunday dinner. (My grandmother, a sweet and physically tiny woman, likes to gross out her grandchildren by telling us about how good she was at wringing chickens’ necks back on the farm in Carolina.) But today, with organic and humanely raised chickens once again becoming widely available, the roast chicken is making a comeback.

Anthony Bourdain says in his Les Halles Cookbook that you can measure a chef by how well they do a simple roast chicken. With all respect to Bourdain, though, my favorite recipe is Thomas Keller’s roast chicken, posted on It is the simplest of recipes: truss the bird, salt it, roast it for an hour or so, baste it and let it rest before serving. That’s it. No stuffing, no temperature changes, nothing fancy whatsoever. It comes out with a beautiful, crispy golden brown skin and tender, juicy meat. It tastes like chicken. And it’s delicious.

Serve with roast vegetables, potatoes or fresh bread.

Roast one of these babies on Sunday, then use the leftovers all week for chicken tacos, chicken salad, or whatever you can think of.


7 Responses to “Sunday Roast Chicken”

  1. pizzadiavola Says:

    Mmm I love roast chicken, although I prefer mine with garlic, rosemary, and lemon.

  2. Jonathan Says:

    I totally agree w/ this post. In fact, we just did a whole chicken this weekend in order to a similar sounding post based on Jeffrey Steingarten’s ideas (again, similar w/ Bourdains) about the simplicity of a good roasted/rotisserie chicken. I feel like this is completely overlooked as a tasty, healthy and inexpensive meal.

    In other news, as I came to your site, I read (again)your “mission” or ‘about us’ statement about how you believe no matter what someone’s life is about, they should always eat fresh, real and delicious. Since my husband is a Brit, he discovered upon reading news from home about how the former great cook, Delia Smith, has now decided to ‘jump the shark’ and do a cooking show ala Sandra Lee. Yes, the woman who once touted local, fresh ingredients and believed the same things about food as you (and me), is now joining the ranks of the rest of the world. Just reading your ‘about us’ statement made me again feel that we’re not crazy for believing the same thing about cooking as you. I’m sick of there being too many cooks out there that think it’s ok to substitute processed stuff for fresh stuff. Ok, I guess I’m still getting off my chest. Anywhos, if you feel like weighing in on the issue, check out the post. See ya! – amy @

  3. Renegade Eye Says:

    I make roasted chicken as you do.

    At my blog, I’m starting a series on blogs and food. I hope you’ll read the post, see the idea and comment.

  4. Aunt Leslie Says:

    Funny to be roasting a chicken while reading your marvelous article about … roasting a chicken.

    But the most delicious roast chicken in terms of flavor was when we (me, Gene, Mark and Sheryl) had some chickens in the back yard in Virginia. The rooster had no idea he wasn’t a T. rex, and one day decided to run Gene out of what he considered “his” back yard. That was to be his last act. Out came the shotgun and presto! young rooster for Sunday dinner. He was absolutely the best tasting chicken I ever ate.

    Oops there goes the oven … I’ll see if it’s done or needs a few more minutes!

    Aunt Leslie

  5. saw45 Says:

    Doesn’t basting the chicken just prior to roasting change the crispy skin to soggy skin? Also Keller states in his Epicurious recipe to slather the chicken with fresh butter before serving. What’s up with that? It sounds nasty!

  6. jcleffie Says:

    Yes the basting does tend steam the skin. Keller only recommends that you baste it at the end, after the chicken is cooked.

    I find the last part of your comment shocking. EVERYTHING is better slathered in fresh butter….EVERYTHING! 🙂

    Having said that, we’ve done it with and without the butter. Both are wonderful.

  7. Leek Mashed Potatoes, with a bonus leftover recipe « The Real Potato. Says:

    […] heads together and came up with this easy, tasty fried leek mashed potato dish.  We had it with a roast chicken and Jennie’s excellent and easy roasted green […]

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