You know when people ask you "What's your favorite smell?" And usually responses are something like "night blooming jasmine" or "red roses" or "sun tan lotion." Not me. No, My answer is a roasting chicken in the oven right as you are about to take a sip of cold champagne and the bubbles are tickling your nose and you smell both things at once, harmoniously blending, for a split second. For now though, let's focus on the chicken. I have said it before and I'll say it again, "a roasting chicken in the oven is the best smell in the world". This still stand true for me, no doubt about it. There might be other meals I (might) enjoy more, but none who's aroma could stand up as well.
I haven't roasted a chicken in over 8 months. Blame it on the vegetarianism thing. I have not really eaten meat in over 7 months except for the occasional cheat out at Cafe Diva (if the duck tacos are on the appetizer list, you get them. Vegetarian or not.) Also, I've had the occasional prociutto bite on a cheese plate, but other than that, were talking nada. Meat free. Then, last Friday rolled around and I was making dinner for a lady who had hurt her shoulder and had two small children and could not cook very well by herself, given her injury. As I thought about what I should make, a very happy realization washed over me as I thought about how I could seize this opportunity to make some meat, by jove! And that's exactly what I was going to do. Not just any meat. I was going to roast a chicken dang it! I was weirdly excited by this. I really was. I lovingly took the bird out of it's wrapper and gave it the royal treatment. I'm telling you, not more than 5 minutes after putting that sucker in the oven my house smelled euphoric, and oh, how I missed that smell! Hot chicken fat and lemon, onions and olive oil can have that affect, and oh, how it had its way with me! You can keep your roses and sun tan lotion. I'm taking chicken, hands down. Make this chicken this week and see what I'm talking about. The aroma is pure magic.
If you have never roasted a chicken before, never fear, I have a fool proof method down pat. All you need to do is buy a chicken that is between 4 and 5 pounds. If you do that, you will be golden. Why? If you cook a 4 to 5 pound bird at a certain temperature for exactly 1 1/2 hours (1 1/4 hours if your oven runs really hot) it will be cooked perfectly, no questions asked. If you don't know how hot your oven runs, just check the chicken after 1 1/4 hours, by piercing the skin with a knife between the leg and thigh. if the juices run clear, you are golden. If they have a pink tinge to them, put it back in the oven and roast till the 1 1/2 hour mark and check again with the other thigh. It should be totally cooked through. If it's not, you likely picked a bird that weighed a little over 5 pounds and would have to cook it longer. Make sure you then follow the instructions for "resting" and you will be a very happy camper.
The croutons for this is just some french bread cubed up and sauteed in olive oil, salt and pepper. It seasons the bread and toasts and dries it out so when you slice the chicken on top the juices get absorbed in the bread and it is possibly the best weeknight dinner you could ever have.
Lemon Roasted Chicken with Croutons
adapted from "Barefoot Contessa In Paris"
1 (4- to 5-pound) roasting chicken
1 large yellow onion, sliced
Good olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
2 lemons, quartered
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
6 cups (3/4- inch) bread cubes (1 baguette or round boule)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Take the giblets out of the chicken and wash it inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pinfeathers. Toss the onion and wedges from half a lemon with a little olive oil in a small roasting pan. Place the chicken on top and sprinkle the inside of the cavity with salt and pepper. Place the lemons inside the chicken. Pat the outside of the chicken dry with pepper towels, brush it with the melted butter, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken.
Roast for 1 1/4 hours to 1 1/2 hours (I recommend roasting for 1 1/4 hours if the chicken is between 4 and 4 1/2 pounds, and 1 1/2 hours if it is between 4 1/2-5 pounds.) or until the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and the thigh. Cover with foil and allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. (The onions may burn, but the flavor is good.)
Meanwhile, heat a large saute pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil until very hot. Lower the heat to medium-low and saute the bread cubes, tossing frequently, until nicely browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add more olive oil, as needed, and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. place the croutons on a serving platter. Slice the chicken and place it, plus all the pan juices, over the croutons. Sprinkle with salt and serve warm.
I don't know how authentically French this is, but while Ina Garten (the writer of this recipe) was in Provence, a friend made this dish for them, and to her it is the essence of French country cooking. A simple roast chicken is sliced onto a bed of warm croutons so they soak up all those delicious juices. Um, yeah, sounds pretty appealing Ina, and it tastes even better. Trust me, I've made a few of these in my day.