When I was younger, my mother told me the story of a lady who labored over her daughter’s college graduation dinner. Her mother made a delicious salad, buttery mashed potatoes and roasted chicken. After the meal, presents were opened—including a brand new car with a huge bow waiting for her in the driveway. The girl’s father promised he would accompany her the next morning to drive her new car for the first time. Everyone cried happy tears and parted in the best of moods.
But the next morning, no one woke up to take the car out for a drive. Every single person that attended the party had died in their sleep—not from carbon dioxide poising, but from salmonella poisoning. Imagine, getting a brand new car and dying before getting to drive it? Of course, my first thought was “Who the f**k wants a chicken dinner after graduation?” That seems like the lamest party ever and thank God I wasn’t invited. I would have just showed up to the after party. Secondly, I decided to never make chicken again and would leave it to the experts at KFC or Chirping Chicken.
Every chicken dish at my house was so overcooked that the skin would crisp up and flake as if a nuclear bomb had gone off inside our stove. You know those videos of nuclear bomb tests where everything dissolves into ash? Well, that was my chicken dinner growing up. We would try reviving the chicken with gravy or ketchup, but it never worked.
It wasn’t until recently when I started experimenting with chicken that I realized it could be a delicious, moist piece of protein. A lot of people like to use special spices and herbs, but I prefer mine natural. Just good old-fashioned chicken.
The Best Roasted Chicken
1/2 stick butter, softened (left at room temperature for two hours) 1 whole chicken (4 to 5 pounds), thawed 2 teaspoons salt 1 teaspoon pepper Lemon (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. (Yes, you do need to preheat the oven. I know preheating is annoying, but it really is important. It will help “shock” the chicken’s skin to create a nice, juicy seal.)
Rinse the chicken under cold water, inside and out. Make sure you take out the gizzards (all the stuff in the chicken, sometimes in a paper bag. I usually toss them, but you can find recipes that incorporate them if you’d like). Pat the chicken with a paper towel and let dry. Sprinkle the chicken with the salt and pepper—don’t forget the inside! If you have a lemon, you can cut it in half and put it inside.
Take the butter and slather the entire chicken. Get messy! Use your hands to cover every crevice. Put the chicken in a roasting pan, breast up, and place in your preheated oven. Do not use a rack inside the roasting pan—just place the bird directly in the pan. Bake it for 15 minutes per pound, or around an hour for a 4 pound-chicken, etc.
This is optional, but to test if the chicken is done, pokes the thigh with a knife once the allotted time is up. If the juices run clear, you can take the chicken out of the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes before serving. If you get pink- or red-tinged juices, leave it in for another 10 minutes and repeat the test. I guarantee you it will be the juiciest chicken you’ve ever had!
Petrit Husenaj is a writer based in New York City and the creator of the food blog My Social Chef.