Author, blogger, fitness specialist and podcaster, there isn’t much that Tony Federico doesn’t do! He was kind enough to share one of his most popular recipes with us this week. Make sure to check out his site for more Paleo-friendly eats! You can out more about Tony below.
“You could probably get through life without knowing how to roast a chicken, but the question is, would you want to?”
-Nigella Lawson, “How to Eat”
In terms of difficulty, roasting a chicken is closer to pouring a bowl of cereal than it is to souffle, but the idea is nonetheless intimidating for many. Perhaps it is the task of dealing with a whole animal, a little creature with disparate bits that have to be coaxed into a cohesive whole. Well intrepid culinary travelers, fear not!
Roasting your first chicken is a cook’s right of passage, and one that will reward you richly. In addition to being delicious, whole chickens are cheaper to buy than chicken parts (oddly enough) and the resultant skeleton can be boiled into stock for soups, stews, sauces, and other dishes. In other words whole chickens are a tasty gift that keeps on giving.
What You Will Need
- 1 whole chicken, 3-5lbs (giblets removed)
- Dried herbs and spices (garlic powder, dried onion flakes, turmeric, pepper, etc.)
- 1/2 cup sea salt plus (~2 tbsp more for seasoning rub)
- Fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, etc)
- 1 lemon halved
- 3-5 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed up a bit
- 1 medium white onion cut into quarters
- 2 medium carrots, chopped into 1” chunks
- Coconut oil or lard (for rubbing onto the chicken’s skin before roasting)
To ease the process, I’ve simplified the process into five steps to ensure your success in this endeavor, so let’s begin with the brine…
Step 1: Begin with a Brine
Brining beforehand seasons the bird and draws moisture out of the meat making it more flavorful. Prepare a simple brine by dissolving 1/2 cup of sea salt in 2 quarts of water. Put your chicken in a large bowl and cover it with the brine. Place the bowl in your refrigerator and do something else for an hour. (You could leave the chicken in the brine longer, but don’t let it go more than 5 hours or so.) Remove the chicken from the brine and rinse with cold water. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. You can return the chicken to the fridge to dry some more (which will help the skin brown later on) or you can move on to step two.
Step 2: Rub it Down
Chicken, being a fairly neutral meat, meshes well with a variety of flavors. A solid spice rub is a great way to add these flavors without too much hassle and herbs and spices have the added benefit of increasing the nutrient density of your dish. Feel free to experiment with this step on your own using the basic template of equal parts sea salt, dried aromatics (ex. garlic, lemon, or onion), and spices (ex. thyme, oregano, parsley, paprika, etc.) Apply the rub to all parts of the chicken, inside the cavity, over the skin, and even under the skin. Leave no surface unrubbed!
For my chicken, I prepared a combination of Himalayan pink salt, dried onion flakes, dried garlic, ground turmeric, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. After applying the spice rub, I also rubbed the chicken with coconut oil and a bit of coconut sugar.
Step 3: Apply Aromatics
Aromatic herbs and vegetables infuse your roasted chicken with even more flavor and I’ve never heard of anyone disappointingly saying, “This tastes TOO good!” This step is really no more complicated than shoving halved lemons, fresh herbs (ex. rosemary, time, sage, parsley), and aromatic onions and garlic into the chicken. You can also scatter some aromatics across the bottom of the roasting pan to keep the chicken from sitting in it’s own juices. This helps with airflow and that means crispier skin and better browning.
Note: I stuffed my chicken with rosemary, lemon, garlic, and white onion. I also put down more of the above, in addition to carrots, for the roasting pan.
Step 4: Tie it Up
Tieing up, or “trussing” your bird will keep its wings and legs nicely tucked, which isn’t done for modesty’s sake. Keeping all the appendages bound tightly to the chicken’s body helps the bird cook more evenly and prevents any errant limbs from getting dried out. A simple loop of cooking twine around the ends of the legs and another around the breast, which will bind the wings, will do. More elaborate methods exist, but as long as the job is done the method is irrelevant.
Note: I ran out of cooking twine so I had to improvise with some leftover twine that I used in a backyard project. This just goes to show you that cooking doesn’t have to be perfect in order to be good!
Step 5: Trust the Numbers
We have brined, rubbed, seasoned, and bound the bird, now we come to step five, where it all comes together. I implore you to “trust the numbers” when it comes to cooking your chicken because there is nothing worse than parchingly dry meat. You certainly don’t want to undercook, but, assuming you have properly sourced your animal, the risk of illness from undercooked meat is low.
For optimal doneness, chicken should be cooked in a 350 degree oven until the internal temperature of the meat is 165 degrees. At this temperature, any potential pathogen will be well killed and your chicken will still be tender and juicy. To achieve this magical number, I encourage you to use a probe thermometer (I personally use the Chef Alarm from Thermoworks) which allows you to insert the thermometer directly into the meat. I recommend probing at the thickest point of the chicken thigh, close, but not touching the bone. Keep in mind that the internal temperature of anything that you are cooking will continue to rise after you pull it from the oven, so pulling the chicken out a wee bit early is actually a good idea.
In lieu of a thermometer, you can estimate cooking time by multiplying the weight of the chicken in pounds by 20 minutes and adding 15. For example, a three pound bird in a 350 degree oven should take ~1 hour and 15 minutes. You can also visually test for doneness by piercing the meat and checking to see if the juices run clear.
There you have it! Five simple steps to one great meal. Carve the chicken up however you like (I “deconstructed” the bird, separating out the breast meat, wings, and thighs) but you can leave it whole if you prefer, hacking away piece by delicious piece as you swiftly consume your penultimate poultry creation.
Tony Federico BS, ACSM HFS is a certified health and fitness specialist with the American College of Sports Medicine. In addition to working with clients one on one, he writes for Paleo Magazine and hosts the Paleo Magazine Podcast. Tony authored the upcoming book “Paleo Grilling – A Modern Caveman’s Guide to Cooking with Fire” and blogs about food on his website LiveCaveman.com. Connect with Tony on Twitter @TonyFedFitness, on Instagram @TonyFed1, or on Facebook.