Although this topic may seem a little dull, you would be surprised at how many people suddenly asked me just this week, “how do I roast a whole chicken?” Not only is whole-bird roasting one of the most delicious ways to prepare fowl of any kind, it is also one of the most nutritious ways for several reasons.
First of all, a whole organism of any kind can be looked at as being nutritionally complete. To assure that you are properly nourished it is important to make use of as much of a whole bird as possible. Proteins and water soluble vitamins, essential to human vitality, are concentrated in the muscles. Fats and fat soluble vitamins, also essential for basic human function, are concentrated in the organs including the skin. Minerals, also incredibly important for human health, are concentrated in the bones. By roasting a whole bird, you capitalize on all of these components together in balanced proportions, maximizing their benefits (note: the organs won’t be roasted along with the whole bird, but are usually included and can be removed and cooked separately. Organ meats are always the most nutritious parts of any animal, and traditionally have been highly prized in nearly all cultures).
Perhaps the most fantastic reason to roast a whole bird is for the marvelous juices that accumulate in the roasting pan. Gelatin from the bones, rich in hydrophilic colloids that aid in digestion and the proper assimilation of nutrients, fuses with fat from the skin and juices in the meat to make a potent jus – the perfect complement to a meal from any standpoint.
And, roasting whole birds is extremely easy. It takes time but little work other than turning on the oven and seasoning the bird before you throw it in. Here’s how…keep in mind that larger birds such as turkey or smaller birds like Cornish game hens will require different cooking times.
1) Heat oven to 450+ degrees.
2) Prepare a rub using 2T extra virgin olive oil, lots of ground celtic sea salt, and herbs and spices of your choosing (my favorite blend is 2t Hungarian paprika, 1t chipotle powder, and fresh thyme leaves)
3) Rub your spice and oil blend over the chicken, massaging the flavor into the skin, including the back, wings, etc.
4) Place the chicken into a dish with sides (2” or more) that is barely large enough to fit the chicken. Pyrex glass and clay terra cotta dishes, for example, work very well.
5) Roast the chicken in the oven on the middle rack until skin gets dark brown and begins to crisp up. This should take 30-45 minutes. If it takes longer cook it at higher heat next time.
6) Once the skin is brown, remove the chicken from the oven and pour the juices from the bottom of the pan (mostly oil at that point), into a separate container, being careful not to get burned from the steaming chicken. Then pour the juices back over the chicken, making sure to moisten the legs and wings too.
7) Place the chicken back into the oven and cover loosely with an upside-down stainless steel bowl or piece of aluminum foil.
8) Immediately reduce heat to 250 degrees and slow-roast, covered and untouched, for an additional 45 minutes to an hour.
9) Slice and serve with a salad and/or sauerkraut, and a delicious, sauce-loving, raw butter-finished starch like polenta, pureed squash or yams, or mashed potatoes.
For the ultimate experience make sure your chicken is a “pastured” chicken, raised outdoors on its natural mixed diet, without antibiotics or soy feed (the terms “free range,” “organic,” and “cage free” do not indicate that the bird is raised in this manner).
Other whole bird essentials:
*Save the leftover bones, including the neck and feet (if available) after the meat has been picked clean and use them for making homemade stock (it’s wise to save up 3-4 carcasses in the freezer to make a larger batch).
3-4 chicken carcasses
3 large carrots, roughly chopped
5 stalks celery, roughly chopped
2 small onions, roughly chopped
1 head garlic, sliced horizontally, skin still on
6-8 bay leaves
Handful of fresh thyme sprigs
Handful of fresh parsley
1T whole black peppercorns
¼ cup organic apple cider or white wine vinegar
1) Place all ingredients in a large stainless steel stock pot.
2) Cover thoroughly with cold water (preferably filtered water)
3) Bring to a boil uncovered.
4) Skim the layer of foam and oil from the surface with a ladle.
5) Turn heat down to a low simmer and cook for 2-4 hours.
6) Skim the surface layer with a ladle once more.
7) Strain out liquid and cool immediately, freezing a portion for later use.
8) Use this nourishing and energizing gelatin and electrolyte-mineral-rich broth to make soups and sauces to accompany future meals.
*After saving the pan drippings from the initial bird roasting, upon refrigeration the juices will separate into 2 layers. The top layer will be thick layer of fat. Use this fat for sautéing or add to brown rice, vegetables, meats, etc. The bottom layer is the gelatin. An instant sauce can be made from heating the gelatin and slowly whisking in lots of cold butter cut into small squares. Season to taste and serve with meat, poultry, and even fish dishes.
Cornish game hens
Guinea hens (if you can find them)
*Squab and Quail are also excellent whole, but require pan-searing to brown the skin because they are so small and sensitive to overcooking.
And although all of this may sound daunting, a couple practice rounds at roasting a whole bird and utilizing all of its goodness is enough to gain the confidence (and love) you need to make this ultra-nourishing tradition a household ritual.