After college graduation, my parents encouraged me not to return home. They knew that my big personality was not well-suited for small town life. My little brother, on the other hand, was your typical cool-kid-in-high-school-quarterback-of-the-varsity-football-team who attends a small private college with the goal of being a teacher and coach in a small town. For him, the more wide open spaces, the better. When your name is Chip, you are destined for small town fame.
So I moved to Cincinnati in such a whirlwind that it was kind of like Hurricane Jen took over the city. I took a job as a wine sales representative with a small distributor and drove around the east side of the city with a map spread out across my steering wheel. At the end of each work day, after I had visited sometimes up to twenty locations across half the city, I would open the freezer, pull out a frozen boneless chicken breast, drop it into a greased pyrex dish, pour Italian dressing over it, and bake for 45 minutes. Sometimes I would heat up a can of green beans or toss together a salad, but most nights anything else was just too much work. I was barely on my feet financially, exhausted, renting an apartment that was in a very rough area east of downtown, and uninterested in eating anything that wasn't convenient.
That was five years ago and so much has changed. I have found that having a husband to help with the day-to-day things has enhanced more than just my social life--it has revitalized dinner. I am motivated when I get home to cook something that will satisfy both of us, and frankly, individually frozen boneless, skinless chicken breast just doesn't make the cut. The times I've made them lately (at the request of my stepdaughter who turns her nose up at the sight of a chicken bone), the chicken is completely tasteless, no matter how much seasoning I add.
Maybe this makes me a food snob--but this is a blog about food--good food. Indulgent food. Food appreciation. When I roast a whole 3lb chicken, I am saying to it, "Chicken, I appreciate you."
Just say no to tasteless chicken and try this method of brining a whole small chicken and roasting it at a high temperature to achieve a juicy, flavorful meat with a crispy skin. The recipe comes from America's Test Kitchen. The original recipe suggests adding 2.5 lbs russet potatoes to the roasting pan, presumably to soak up the juices and keep the drippings from smoking at such a high temperature. We did not have any potatoes on hand and therefore we did have a somewhat smoky kitchen (now that I think of it--no smoke alarms went off--perhaps we should be checking the batteries), but the flavor of the chicken was not affected and the chicken was perfectly roasted.
If you are intimidated by the idea of butterflying (or spatchcocking) a chicken, then I would like send you over to Youtube where you will find an abundance of how-to videos. All you really need a some kitchen shears and a little confidence and you will be good to go.
High-Roast Chicken with Thyme, Mustard, & Garlic Butter
recipe adapted from The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook
serves 3-4, depending on the weight of the chicken
1/2 cup table salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 (3lb-4lb) whole chicken, giblets discarded
2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 medium garlic clove, minced
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
2.5 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and slicked 1/2 inch thick
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Disolve the salt and sugar in 2 quarts cold water in a large container. Submerge the chicken in the brine. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Pre-heat oven to 500 degrees. Be sure that the oven rack is on the lowest position. Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse well, and pat dry. Remove the backbone from the chicken and press the chicken flat, and, if needed, pounding it so that it is at a fairly even thickness. Tuck the wings behind the back.
In a small bowl, mash together butter, mustard, garlic, thyme, and a pinch of pepper. Use your fingers to gently loosen the skin covering each breast. Place the butter mixture under the skin onto the meat. Press on the skin to distribute the butter. Rub the skin with the oil and season with pepper. Place the chicken on the top rack in a broiler pan that is lined with foil in the bottom.
Optional: Toss the potatoes with the oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the potatoes over the foil on the bottom of the broiler pan. If you do not do this, you will likely have smoke coming from your oven, but a good hood fan and ceiling fan will help control the smokiness. It wasn't much of a bother for us and an hour later I can't smell it at all.
Roast in the oven for 20 minutes. Rotate the pan and continue to roast until the skin is brown and crisp and the thickest part of the breast registered 160 to 165 degrees on your thermometer. The thickest part of the thight should be at 175 degrees. The total cooking time will be around 40-45 minutes, give or take. Transfer the chicken to a carving board and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
If you prepare the optional potatoes, using paper towels soak up any excess grease from the potatoes and transfer to a serving platter.