image from FallenSouffle.com
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 Epicurious.com. 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.