So after having a little plantar fasciitis pity party here and here, I think it’s time for something a bit lighter. So I’ll write about one of my (new) favorite pastimes: Roasting a chicken. [This is also healthier than the ice cream habit mentioned in the above posts.]
My Dad jumped on this bandwagon a few years ago, and I distinctly remember my mother noting, “I love that he cooks. And the chicken is good. But we’ve had roasted chicken for dinner every single week this winter!” I think KMN might lodge the same complaint soon. [Not really. He’s amazing about eating anything I cook, pretty much without complaint, and pretty much always with gratitude and compliments. And I’m probably on the “roasting every-other-week” schedule these days.]
I would occasionally roast a chicken while living alone during grad school, but that always felt like a production, and a race to use all the meat before it went bad. But now, I’m cooking for two people – so once we settled in Singapore, I decided it was time to get really good at chicken roasting. Why? Well, I don’t really like to cook meat all that much. But a roast chicken is a foundation for a healthy meal. And if I cook it early in the week, then the leftover meat can make its way into dinner for another night or two with any extra handling of raw meat. Plus, I can boil the carcass to make chicken broth for soup at the end of the week. With a little planning, one roast chicken is actually more like three meals, for us. WIN.
So, in order to raost a chicken, we must first buy a chicken. And in a new country, everything is an adventure: Even buying a chicken. In a US supermarket, my choices are (basically) Butterball versus Perdue (or the farmer’s market). At our local Fairprice in Singapore, I can choose from Fresh Pasar Chickens, Halal Chickens, Spring Chickens, Jumbo Chickens, Black Chickens, and Halal Fresh Pasar Chickens. The first few times, I randomly grabbed whichever one looked good at the moment off the shelf. Eventually, I remembered to ask my mother-in-law for help. Here’s a quick translation of the local lingo (since this won’t matter for…well, for pretty much any of you, but just in case…):
Pasar Fresh: “Regular” chicken
Halal: Killed and processed in a way that is Halal, but otherwise exactly the same as Pasar
Kampong: The local version of “free range” – usually scrawnier, but some people think it tastes better. Keep in mind that “kampong” isn’t especially standardized, so I’m not exactly convinced that I’m getting a more ethically raised chicken.
Spring: Young chicken. Some people think these more tender.
Jumbo: Duh. If the name didn’t give it away, one look at them would’ve.
Black: Yep, they’re black: Skin, flesh, bones. Interestingly, their plumage is white. Black chicken is popular in Chinese medicine and especially herbal soups. In my experience, the taste is basically the same as any other chicken – although some people claim it’s tougher.
I usually go for a Pasar or Kampong chicken, but not every option is available every time I go to the supermarket, so I’m flexible. And although I’m not 100% clear on the regulations and origins of the chicken we eat (sorry, clean eating folks, sorry…I’m trying, but in a new place, this is a real challenge) – I suspect these chickens aren’t quite as bred/injected/modified as their US counterparts. For one thing, they are smaller. For another, they look more properly proportioned, if you know what I mean. I’m still learning about the food supply chains out here, but I’m already inclined to trust the standard supermarket chicken out here to be somewhat less chemical-filled, food-stuffed, and breast-heavy.
Furthermore, the chickens are slaughtered locally, and are offered “fresh”. However, I should note that the day I actually took these photos was the third or fourth day of Chinese New Year – and all the chickens were labeled “Fresh”, with a second label slapped on that said, “Previously frozen. Thawed on (date).” Apparently use of the word “Fresh” isn’t strictly regulated, at least not over the holiday period.
Now, don’t expect that your chicken will come in a hermetically sealed package. These small birds are plopped onto a styrofoam tray, covered in a thin sheet of plastic wrap, and put onto the shelf. It’s pretty common that the wings poke through the plastic, or the plastic on top tears a bit, or the plastic simply starts to come unwrapped. Hint: Remember to grab a plastic bag from the fresh fish section. You can put your chicken in this bag, to keep the rest of your groceries clean. And watch out – because there’s always a chance that your chicken will drip bloody raw chicken liquid on your list, shoes, and floor – if you aren’t careful:
And don’t forget (friends from the USA) that once you bring your little Spring/Kampong/Fresh/Halal chicken home, you still have to remove the feet and head. These parts are tucked into the bird’s body cavity for “display”, but they’re definitely still attached. I debated whether or not to include this picture, but it’s part of my real-life experience. So I included it, but I made it nice and small. Don’t look if you’re squeamish. If you’re curious, click for a nice big version. 😉 Regardless on your feelings about the chicken photo, I will share with you two truths:
1. This experience will bring you closer to your food.
2. A cleaver is a valuable tool.
But enough talk. Let’s get this bird into the oven. Speaking of ovens, pre-heat yours to 400°F (200°C). Line your baking pan with foil (this saves much clean-up effort). Then, rinse the chicken thoroughly (remove the giblets, if included) and pat her dry, inside and out. This is pretty important: If there’s too much excess water around, the bird will actually steam in the oven, rather than roast.
All right. Are you ready for the hard part? This preparation is really complex. So complex, in fact, that these days, I do the chicken-touching parts with just one hand, so I have one “clean” hand to touch/move other things, and one “contaminated” hand for the chicken. (<– Paranoid biologist)
1. Mix ~1 Tbsp salt + pepper to taste [I use a lot of pepper; you can use less – remember that not a lot gets onto/into the meat, so no worries about spice.]
2. Rub mixture into body cavity.
3. Squeeze half a lemon into body cavity. Stuff lemon half in there for good measure. (Don’t ask me why this doesn’t cause a “steaming” problem. It just doesn’t.)
4. Encrust the outside with salt or salt/pepper mix. Be generous. You should actually be able to see the salt. This helps keep the bird moist. Magic!
5. Roast for ~50-60 minutes, depending on the size of the bird. If the breast starts getting brown, fold some foil into a triangle and make a small shield to cover the breast (sounds very medieval, no?). This helps keep the meat moist. When I think it’s just about done, I use a meat thermometer in the thigh (should read 165°F) to confirm.
6. Remove from oven and let rest 15 minutes.
7. Carve: Remove legs and slice all the breast meat off in one slice per side (you can sub-slice these after removal). Pick remaining meat off by hand.
8. Enjoy. Trust me, it’s delicious.
These photos were compiled from several recent chicken-cooking escapades – including last night! Tonight, I’m on my own for dinner, so will certainly be enjoying some leftovers. And I already have a nice container of stock sitting in the refrigerator. Oh…the possibilities!
Do you have any special chicken-roasting secrets?
I’m still resting my foot, so I have to live vicariously through your running workout today. Tell me allllllll about it!