I recently had a conversation with a stranger about chicken. This is not unusual for me, because wherever I go, I chat with people – and one of the things we humans all have in common is – we eat! She commented that it was hard to cook quality protein every day because she felt like she was constantly in the kitchen. I explained that was my favorite place to be, but I also did understand feeling overwhelmed because healthy eating DOES require you to actually prepare and cook food. She asked me how I manage that, and I shared my secret weapon – which isn’t a secret at all. It’s simple:
When you cook, make much more than you need for just that one day.
While we were raising our hoodlums, I cooked three or four meals a week, which left us plenty of leftovers for lunches, and a few healthy dinners on extra-busy days. Now that it’s just Shawn and I, we still follow this pattern. I don’t prepare just a few pieces of chicken, I roast a large bird that will cover us for three dinners and a couple of lunches. When we grill steak, I get a large package and cook the whole thing. A bigger cut of meat is almost always cheaper per pound anyway, so why not have a few leftover choices available? That way, you can easily put together a protein-and-veggies meal in a few minutes.
So that brings me to my conversation about chicken. This nice lady was buying and baking individual chicken breasts, and felt they were always dry and flavorless. I introduced her to the beauty, deliciousness, and money-saving magic of the whole roasted chicken!
Most people that don’t like to roast a whole chicken have these objections:
- The white meat is dry
- The skin is fattening
Those are easily-resolved issues.
Dry meat. The white meat is often overcooked when you bake it the traditional way (breast up higher than the thighs/legs). Butterflying the bird, and sloooow roasting changes that.
Fatty skin. Yes, most of the fat in chicken is attached to the skin, but that’s why the whole bird benefits from cooking with the skin ON. If you don’t want to eat the skin, then don’t eat it, but let the meat have it’s best chance at getting juicy and well-flavored. Chicken fat won’t hurt you; fat is necessary in our diets and if you don’t eat enough, you won’t be healthy, or be able to lose weight.
Let’s roast this chicken!
I started with a 6.5 pound chicken. When you choose a bird at the store, remember that the bigger it is, the better meat/bone ratio. This same rule applies to turkeys. I try to buy the largest one they’ve got!
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Yep, keep it low!
- When you’re ready to roast, remove the innards, (I don’t eat those, so they go in the trash) rinse the bird in your clean kitchen sink, then pat it dry with paper towels.
- Turn the bird upside-down and cut right down it’s back with sharp kitchen shears. (It’s easier to cut on the side of the spine instead of right down the middle.)
- This completely opens up the bird, but take one more step to make it really flat – use the point of your knife to cut through the bone that holds both sides of the breast together. Poke straight down and through (it’s really easy).
- Turn the bird over and push down on the breast. It lays flat! This keeps the breast at the same level as the legs so it doesn’t get so dry.
- Season the bird with salt, pepper, and whatever herbs you like. This one just has garlic and paprika, but I also love a healthy dose of thyme and rosemary.
- Lightly grease a low-sided roasting pan with oil (I use coconut or olive) and nestle that pretty bird in. make sure it’s large enough so it’s not crowded.
- You can surround it with carrots, celery or whatever veggies can handle a long, slow roast. Broccoli, zucchini, or other fast-cooking veggies would just get mushy. You can add them the last 40 minutes or so if you’d like.
If you’re worried about not under or overcooking, stick a thigh with a meat thermometer. make sure it’s secure and not touching the bone so it’ll read accurately.
Roast her (or him)! My 6.5 pounder took four hours. It’s done when the juices from the legs and thighs run clear, and when you wiggle the leg, it just comes right off. If the skin isn’t as crispy as you like it, just turn your oven to broil and let that sizzle it right up. Watch it though – perfection happens quickly and you don’t want it to go too far.
Save the juices in the pan. I like to pour them into another container, then put it in the refrigerator right away. See how the fat settles at the top? When it’s chilled, that fat is solid and easy to spoon off and throw away. Then you have chicken stock to make soup! You can use that within a week, or put it in a freezer bag and save it for later.
This makes a super tender and delicious chicken that you can serve one night for dinner, and enjoy with salad the next day, and make a great soup with another time.
One more thing about Chicken Dinner (or any dinner)
You might be like my friend Sarah who says “We never have any leftovers! No matter how much food I make, my family eats every last bit at dinner!” I reminded her that she (and her husband) are the adults in charge and if she’s preparing two (or three) dinners at once, they should explain that to the family. If they’re not used to having any guidelines, then don’t serve several nights worth of food to them at a time. Set out just the amount for that meal and package the rest. The kids should help you with that so they understand the plan. If they know the chicken and vegetables are scheduled for dinner in two days, then they’re on board. In some cases, I know families that had to let the kids experience the consequence of someone eating food that was intended for a later date. I recommend you don’t shield your kids from consequences. Having a smaller dinner (because someone had an “off limits” meal) has an impact on everyone. I found it helpful to put everything the kids could eat on the bottom shelf in the fridge. We called it “fair game”. That way, they didn’t have to ask me what was available every day – and we didn’t ever have a problem with dinner ingredients disappearing.