Seven years ago, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver convinced me to buy and cook a whole chicken. A former vegetarian, I felt strongly that if I was going to continue life as a meat eater, this was a skill I had to learn. Reading the laid-back and reassuring instructions in Oliver's book, Jamie's Dinners, gave me the confidence to take on the process — even though raw meat still made me squeamish.
I marched into Hannaford, determined. But when I picked up the shrink-wrapped bird, I shuddered. It was heavy, kind of floppy and still recognizable as the animal it had been. I frowned at it for a moment, then steeled myself and put it in the cart.
At home, I set to work. I removed the bird from its plastic casing, took a deep breath, poked my hand into the chicken and found — to my relief — that the organs were sealed inside a bag, which I pulled out. Next, I rubbed the bird inside and out with kosher salt and olive oil. I cut a lemon in two, stuffed half of it into the cavity and squeezed the juice from the other half over the top. Then I put the chicken in the oven and hoped for the best.
It was a little dry, under-seasoned and not quite as crispy as I'd hoped it would be. But that first attempt was a game-changer. My family ate it with potatoes — roasted right in the same pan — and a salad. Everyone loved it. At the time, it was the most grown-up dinner I'd ever made. Even now, I still feel a sense of pride and accomplishment whenever I take a lovely, golden chicken out of the oven and serve it to my family.
In any dinner-themed cookbook, you're bound to find a recipe for roasted chicken. And with good reason: It's a classic. The best part? It works for just about any occasion. You can cook one for a big holiday get-together or a regular old family dinner.
My culinary idol, Nigella Lawson, summed it up best in her book, Feast: "It's less a recipe than a blueprint for life. There are few things that can't be made better by a chicken roasting in the oven."
I probably cook this dish every other week during the cold-weather months. I have tried at least a dozen methods, but the one that follows is my favorite. It uses a lemon, my one non-negotiable roasted-chicken ingredient, and has a surprising, Vermonty twist.
Adapted from Eat and Make: Charming Recipes and Kitchen Crafts You Will Love, by Paul Lowe
Craftsbury Common, VT
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