Traveling Crock Pot Christmas - Roasted Chicken with Gravy

The girls and I could not be more thrilled to have put together a Traveling Crock Pot Christmas potluck.

I had the pleasure of hosting--we have a fireplace and it's always great to have an excuse to break out the wood and matches!

 Almost a year ago, myself and three other women assembled our Traveling Crock Pot--a monthly get together hosted by one of us in turns to make the kind of food we usually only dream about.  We've had beef tenderloins topped with garlicky, bacony cream cheese; creme brulees; handmade raviolis; ceviches; amaretto sours; crunchy-and-soft corndogs with spicy mustard; salted caramel cheesecake with apples and, most recently, a jaw-dropping beef wellington.

What a tiny portrait of a drool-worthy year!

The idea was to break out of our comfort zones, to learn, to share food with other folks who love food and have more time with our friends.  Almost all of us have missed a dinner for various reasons, but we made a point of ensuring that for Christmas, our first-ever potluck dinner could be all of us together, and for once, including our significant others as well (the lucky boys!).

My contribution to the Christmas Crock Pot table was roasted squash boats (an old family favorite) and a couple roasted chickens.

I've always loved roasting a chicken.  My very first one came out as perfectly as I could have ever hoped (or so I thought then.  I've learned a few things since!).  And why not?  Roasted chickens are among the simplest of things you can cook.  They can come in a half a hundred flavors depending on your preference.  But doing it well so you don't end up with a dried-out bird takes a few, simple techniques.

Roasted Chicken with Gravy

Note: To roast my chickens, I employ a time-and-eye method of checking done-ness.  I have roasted a lot of chickens and I rely on my experience and careful food-handling to keep my meat germ-free.  To be safe and if you're feeling unsure, it's always safest to stick a thermometer in the fattest part of the bird, away from the bone, and get the bird to a minimum of 165 degrees.  Meat does continue to cook while resting so you are probably safe a couple degrees lower but for safest meat, the thermometer should guide you.

All for juiciest meat, this recipe employs brining.  I highly recommend anything Rouxbe offers and have consistently used their All-Purpose Brine to great success on many occasions.  For single or multipe birds, you will need to increase the base recipe they provide.  Brining requires you to begin your chicken prep the night before.

speciality tools: roasting pan

 2.5-3 lb chicken, brined
2-4 cups chicken stock

Prep: Before brining, wash your chicken.  Check out the inside and make sure there aren't organs left in there.  If there are stubs of feathers in the meat, this is NOT the best time to pull them.  Leave them for the moment.

Brine chicken overnight.

In the morning, pull out your chicken.  Why did you brine it?  Because you're artificially inflating its juice factor.  The chickens I brined gained around 45g overnight.  This is how you're going to protect your white meat from drying out.

This is the time to get rid of those feather stubs.  Grab a pair of tweezers just like you're deboning a fish.  The skin is porous from its soak and the feathers will slide right out.  Do not trim down fat from the chicken around the back--all rendered drippings will be made more flavorful with this in there and the gravy will get defatted later.

Pat chicken dry and place, without trussing, on a plate in the bottom of your fridge.  Do not cover--the air-drying time through the day will help your chicken skin get that ultra-crispy texture we all covet.

About an hour and a half before dinner, preheat your oven to 375.

Pull your chicken out.  Unless you like doing the my-cold-hands-are-cramping dance, let it warm on the counter for about 15 minutes.  I still like flavoring the breasts with a compound butter but this is not a protect-all cure for juicy-ness in your white meat; butter alone will not save you.  In this recipe, I juiced a lemon and poured half of this into a Tbsp of butter with a big whack of chiffonaded sage, salt and pepper.  Mash these together (potentially while your chicken is sitting out losing its chill) and boom--compound butter.

Place bird in roasting pan, breast up.  A pan with a rack is ideal so the bottom doesn't get soggy but a dollar-store foil pan will do as well.  Lift the skin all over the chicken and stuff the butter equally down both sides of the bird.  Massage from above the skin to even distribution if necessary.  Drizzle with olive oil and remaining lemon juice; coat the chicken with your hands and salt and pepper the bird.  Be more liberal with the pepper than the salt; it did sit in a salt bath overnight.  Stuff with onion quarters, smashed garlic, lemon husks, extra sage...whatever aromatics catch your fancy.

Pour in as much chicken stock as necessary until there is 1-2 inches in the bottom of the pan.  This serves the dual purpose of steaming your chicken as it heats for even cooking and being a key component of your gravy later.*  Place a piece of tin foil that's been ripped by one-ish inches for venting over the chicken.  Place in oven.

After half an hour, remove foil and baste chicken.  Replace in oven.  You may baste again later if you'd like but it's not necessary.

Let cook through to final cooking time, whatever that happens to be.  The twenty-minutes-per-pound rule usually falls out pretty well if you're not sure.  I usually go a little over for extra crisp.

Let the bird rest for about 15 minutes.

Achievement Unlocked: Juicy Roasted Chicken!

While it's resting, pour out the bottom of the pan into a clear measuring cup.  Let the fat rise to the top (yes, seriously, all that top part is fat) and scoop off as much as you can with a shallow spoon or siphon off with your baster.  Pour back into a small pot, bring to a simmer, and reduce as much as possible while your bird is resting.  A small squeeze of lemon or dash of white wine is nice here.  If you want thick gravy, you'll have to add a cornstartch slurry or some such.  Me, I'm happy with this reduced goodness.  When you're ready, strain this into a gravy boat, carve your bird, and get this food on the table!

*NOTE: If you would rather roast vegetables in the chicken drippings (primo delicious), pour stock in a pot instead, season with a splash of lemon juice and reduce by half (will take upwards of 40 min; reduction is not a speedy process).  You will be left with a beautiful jus if you're using natural chicken stock--the store-bought stuff will reduce to a slurry the consistency and taste of the Dead Sea.  Add harder vegetables (carrots, onions, fennel) halfway through cooking.  Add softer veg (mushrooms, asparagus) about twenty minutes before you're going to pull the chicken.

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