An oven baked whole chicken is quite quick and easy to prepare, using quality ingredients.
Here's an easy and inexpensive way to prepare chicken for a tasty and nourishing meal, done with vegetables and potatoes all roasted together.
Take one good quality free-range chicken - preferably an organic one. Organic chicken are generally raised to a higher standard than conventional ones. Free range-chicken also have a less stressful lifestyle.
Best of all is chicken which is raised in a woodland environment where they can source a lot of their own foods. This makes for an exceptionally delicious and nutritious meat. (And you know your bird is likely to have enjoyed its life.)
Free-range chickens are often called "pastured" chickens in the USA. Although they are usually more expensive than intensively-reared birds, you can get good value from using them by making soup or stew with the leftovers.
This oven baked whole chicken recipe is what we tend to call roast chicken here in the UK. I'm told that it is not strictly a roast dish because for most of us it is not cooked over an open flame. Be that as it may, roast or oven baked - it is truly delicious and easy to do well.
Here are the instructions.
Remove any giblets from the bird and set them aside for making the gravy. You can put them in water on a low heat setting to cook for a few hours. You will add them to the gravy later.
It is usual these days to avoid washing fowl which have come from the butcher or supermarket. By washing the carcass you are more likely to splash any bacteria around your kitchen. This advice is especially important if you are using a bird which has been reared intensively.
If the bird has any visible signs of dirt, then wipe it with a clean damp cloth before preparing it for cooking.
Place the cleaned chicken in a roasting tray. If you do not have one with a lid, then you will need to use some aluminium foil to help the cooking process. It is now possible to buy recycled tin foil.
Rub the bird all over with a little fat such as butter or olive oil. Sprinkle a little sea salt onto the skin. (You can skip this if you are worried by salt!)
Put the chicken into the middle of a pre-heated oven. The temperature to start should be quite high.
Now prepare some vegetables to help add flavour to the whole baked chicken. Carrots and onions are particularly good but you can use almost any vegetables which are in season. All the vegetables should be washed and peeled, as necessary. Organic veg is likely to give the best flavour and the best nutrition. Fresh organic vegetables such as carrots may not need peeling - just a good scrub.
Coarsely chop all the vegetables. Prepare enough to fill around the chicken in the roasting pan. If you want you can prepare another tray full of vegetables to go with the chicken.
Roasted vegetables are very easy to prepare and you are not needing to use any additional heat, provided that you have got room in the oven.
Set aside the veg once it is ready.
If you want to serve your whole baked chicken with roast potatoes (who wouldn't?) now is the time to prepare them.
Scrub and peel the potatoes (optional - many good quality potatoes are rather nice with most of the skin left on). Chop them into medium-sized chunks and place them in cold water to avoid rusting.
Check the chicken after about half an hour or less to make sure that the skin or legs are not burning or over-cooking. Turn the oven down to a medium heat setting (Gas mark 6). If the oven is one of those beasts that cooks better on one side than the other, turn the chicken around.
Add a small amount of water - say, about 200 ml, just enough to stop the veg sticking to the floor of the roasting tray. You can certainly substitute wine here! A little white wine adds flavour.
Add the vegetables and continue cooking the chicken with the lid or foil in place. For best results, lift the bird onto the vegetables and the juices will help cook them and stop them drying out.
Boil a kettle for the potatoes and put them on to cook in a pan for around 5 to 10 minutes with a little salt.
Put a good glug or two of oil into another roasting tray and add a sprinkle of sea salt. Pop it into the top of the oven to get hot. You can also add some cloves of garlic and sprinkled herbs such as rosemary or thyme if you like. Just use whole sprigs of herbs.
When the potatoes are part cooked, take them off the heat and drain them thoroughly for a few minutes. Carefully remove the roasting tray with the hot oil and place the potato chunks into the oil - trying to avoid splashes, which can be painful!
Roll the potatoes in the hot oil so that they are coated in it - a fish slice or similar is useful, or you can use a pastry brush to ensure that the potatoes are well coated. Place the pan back in the oven, near the top.
Check the chicken while you are at it - you can use the fat and water mix in the pan to baste the bird.
Close up the oven. The potatoes will normally take about 40 minutes, depending upon your oven. Try to time it so that they are ready at about the same time as the chicken. They can be transferred to the floor of the oven if they get ahead of the bird.
Most chickens will take around an hour and a half - more for a large bird. I find the best results come when the end roasting is done slowly so that the flesh is falling off the bone. You can turn the oven down to gas mark 3 or so and take two hours or more. The vegetables should just caramelise and become more and more delicious. Keep them well covered and moist.
More on meat
If you want a truly excellent book about meat in all its aspects, caring for it cooking it and finding top quality free range and organic meat, then Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's work is the place to start. It's called The River Cottage Meat Book. It's a fine education into everything to do with meat, from a green and caring perspective. Good for the gourmets too! We've had this work for a while and it's an absolute mine of information and good ideas.
Some of the other books shown on the side panel (right) are doubtless good, too - but I can personally recommend this River Cottage book.
When the chicken is ready it is time to make some gravy.
Let the bird "rest" on the side.
Carefully pour off some of the juices and fat which have collected in the baking tray. Transfer this to a pan and add the stock made from the giblets.
Warm everything through to just short of boiling point.
Mix a little corn flour or wheat flour in a jug with either water or a dash of soy sauce (or a mixture of both). A teaspoonful or two of corn flour is enough unless you like your gravy thick.
When the stock in the pan is almost boiling, add it to the mixture in the jug, stirring continually as it goes in. This prevents lumps. Now pour the stock back into the pan, stirring as you go, and put it back on the heat. A whisk is useful to prevent burning or lumps developing.
Warm the mixture up until it just boils and thickens, then turn off the heat.
Your roast chicken dinner is ready to serve!
This oven baked whole chicken recipe can easily be adapted for other fowl and meat dishes.
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