I left home not knowing how to roast a whole chicken. Nor how to make mashed potatoes. Or gravy.
Let’s chalk that idiocy up to me not asking. But I did humble myself in my 20s and 30s, finally consulting the Fanny Farmer cookbook my mom wisely gave me, “Cooks Illustrated,” the publication of the 1,000 step recipes of American’s Test Kitchen, numerous unreliable internet recipes for roasting poultry at high heat for the express purpose of testing out the home smoke alarm, Kathleen Flinn of “Kitchen Counter Cooking School,” and Mark Bittman of “How to Cook Everything“.
At some point along the way, from someone, I learned this most important piece of wisdom. This is given to you in paraphrase, as I did not commit the sentence to memory:
After you roast about 30 or 40 chickens, you’ll be able to tell when the bird is done by looking at it and poking it a bit.
And that’s it. Just start roasting chickens and keep doing it until you get it the way you like it. Honest to Pete, I don’t think there is any other way to learn to roast a chicken proficiently. No Walmart temp tester is going to save you from Salmonella without giving you dried out cardboard chicken. No recipe, no oven, no timer can give you the exact time and heat you need to roast that chicken.
I am currently enjoying Mark Bittman’s suggestions for roasting a chicken, in high heat, in a pre-heated iron skillet.
I present to you now, the general process for making roast chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, chicken stock and on the following day, chicken soup. In pictures.
So, here it is: Send child out to snip herbs. Herbs currently available at our house are sage, rosemary and thyme. Dress the bird and lovingly place in hot oven. Take bird out when you think it is done. Put it back in if it isn’t. Meanwhile, peel potatoes and boil. Take out chicken for the second time and transfer to plate. Cover and let rest. Observe that the temperature in the kitchen is now 85. Ask son to make gravy for the first time. Receive dire warning information from son that his carpool ride has vaporized and he now needs an emergency trip across town in less than 20 minutes. Give him too much flour (we should have stuck with 1/4 c.), make a roux of the lovely chicken drippings, pour in hot milk. Stir. Drain taters. Mash with milk and sour cream, season with salt and pepper. Serve the potatoes in a bowl and put the pot in the sink to soak. Why? Because that’s what Grandma Helen did. Take another phone call explaining to the other parent the new carpooling emergency. Interrupt that call to receive call that carpool ride is back on track. Serve dinner to hungry children. Listen to children offer thanks. Beg them to save some for Dad who will be home late. Send lad out the door to catch his ride. Send the troops in to wash the dishes. Send some troops back out again because that is too many kids in the kitchen. Tell the five year old I am going to make chicken stock and I will have to have the bones. Look at him and see him nearly start to cry over losing his chicken bones. Promise to him that I will save the bones for him. Place chicken carcass in the cleaned tater pot, fill with water, simmer for 2 or 3 hours. Don’t add carrots, celery and onion, I want to, but I can’t spare the veggies for stock making this week. Know that it will taste wonderful anyway. Strain the broth through a tea towel and strainer. Pour the golden broth into wide-mouth glass jars. Save bones for the boy who wants to be an archeologist. Sleep. Next day make homemade noodles and use the fabulous chicken stock to make great chicken soup, even if there isn’t any actual chicken in the soup.
The End. The End of That Chicken.