Selecting the Perfect Chicken
Before we even start talking about the cooking process, we need to consider what kind of chicken we're going to use. The choice of chicken is essential to get a juicy roast. I recommend choosing a fresh, organic, free-range chicken. Why? Because the quality of the meat is significantly better. These chickens have had a chance to move around and develop their muscles, which results in a more flavorful meat. Also, they're usually not pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, which is always a good thing.
When choosing the chicken, check the skin. It should be a nice, clear color, and it should be dry to the touch. Avoid chickens that have a slimy feel or that have an off smell. If possible, try to get a chicken that's already been brined. Brining is a process that helps to tenderize the meat and keep it juicy during cooking. If you can't find a brined chicken, don't worry - I'll guide you on how to do it at home.
Brining Your Chicken
If you've managed to get a chicken that hasn't been brined, you'll need to do it yourself. Don't worry, it's not hard at all. You'll need some water, salt, sugar, and your favorite herbs and spices. For a basic brine, mix one cup of salt and one cup of sugar in one gallon of water. You can add things like garlic, peppercorns, thyme, rosemary, etc. to impart some flavor into the chicken. Submerge the chicken in the brine and let it sit in the fridge for at least 12 hours, but not more than 24.
After the brining process is done, take the chicken out of the brine and pat it dry. This is important because we want the skin to be really dry so it can become crispy when we roast it. At this point, you can also truss the chicken if you want. Trussing is the process of tying the chicken's legs together and tucking the wing tips under the body. This helps the chicken to cook more evenly.
Preparing Your Chicken for Roasting
Once your chicken is brined and dried, it's time to add some flavor. You can keep it simple with just some butter, salt, and pepper, or you can get creative with your favorite herbs and spices. Personally, I love to use a mix of softened butter, garlic, lemon zest, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper. I rub this all over the chicken, and also under the skin.
Another important tip is to stuff the chicken cavity with aromatics. This can be anything you like - I usually go for a halved lemon, some cloves of garlic, and a bunch of fresh herbs. This not only adds flavor from the inside, but it also helps to keep the chicken moist during cooking.
The Roasting Process
Now that our chicken is all dressed up and ready to go, it's time to roast it. Preheat your oven to 425°F (220°C). Place the chicken on a roasting rack inside a roasting pan. This helps the heat to circulate evenly around the chicken. Roast the chicken in the preheated oven for about 1.5 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh.
One crucial thing to remember is not to open the oven door too often. Every time you open the door, heat escapes and lowers the oven temperature, which can result in a less than perfect roast. So resist the temptation and trust the process.
Resting and Carving Your Roast Chicken
Once your chicken is beautifully roasted, it's not time to eat just yet. We need to let it rest. Resting allows the juices to redistribute throughout the chicken, resulting in a juicier roast. Let the chicken rest for at least 15-20 minutes before you start carving it.
When it comes to carving, start by removing the legs. Cut between the leg and the body, then cut through the joint to separate the drumstick from the thigh. Next, remove the breast by cutting along the breastbone. Finally, remove the wings. And there you have it, a perfectly roasted, juicy chicken ready for you to enjoy.