Chicken is difficult. Not difficult in that it is tasteless, bland, rubbery, spongy or just plain boring: I never find those things to be true about organically-fed, pastured, humanely-raised chicken. Not difficult in that it’s too hard to cook: in fact, roasted chicken is one of the easiest dishes I make. Chicken, that most ubiquitous of American meat staples, is difficult because it is hard to find.
My regular local chicken guy used to be Pat of New England Farms. Pat used to come down from Granville, NY once a week to my local farmer’s market, Gossett Brothers in South Salem, with his beef & pork, maple syrup & honey, eggs & milk, occasional goat & lamb. And chickens – roasters, young chickens, stew hens, he had ’em all. Pasture-raised, organically fed, humanely treated and quite delicious chickens. And while we eat less and less meat these days, as local eaters we definitely eat more meat in the winter when fresh vegetables are scarce. Sadly, Pat doesn’t come to our market anymore and no other farm has filled the chicken vacuum. So I’m left with the occassional chicken from Hemlock Hill (lovely chickens, but the farm is 45 minutes from my house), or Holbrook Farm (they have chickens every now and then, maybe when a laying hen stops producing?) or storebought organic chickens from Empire Kosher or D’Artagnan. I’m sure there are others out there, but I would dearly love it if there was a local, convenient source for sustainably, humanely, raised pastured chickens (local chicken farmers – check out the South Salem market – please!).
As for this chicken dish: anything but difficult. I have tons of dried basil stored during our hot & dry summer along with a good amount of dried chiles tucked away this Fall. Crush ’em up with a bit of butter, slather it on an air-dried chicken, and roast for an hour. Spicy, herby, crispy, moist – delicious. I wish I could tell you that I served this lovely chicken with mashed potatoes, or sauteed garlicky greens, or oven roasted winter squash; any of those accompaniments would be excellent. Seeing, however, as it is Christmastime, and I am trying to wrap presents, and make presents, and write Christmas cards, and hang Christmas lights, and decorate the tree, and decorate the house, and finish shopping, and plan a menu for my Christmas party, and find something to wear to my Christmas party… I jammed some breast meat between two pieces of Wave Hill bread, added a spritz of pan juices, and called it lunch. Easiest thing I’ve done all week.
Spicy Basil Roasted Chicken
- one 3 to 4-lb roaster chicken
- 1 – 2 tsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp dried basil
- 3 dried chiles coarsely ground
- 2 – 3 tbsp butter, softened
- Rinse the chicken, inside & out, in cool running water. Pat dry. Generously sprinkle salt over the chicken skin. If you can, allow to sit, unwrapped, in the refrigerator for 1 to 24 hours prior to roasting (this dries out the skin to aid crisping).
- Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees F (425 degrees F convection). Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature (allow to sit at room temp for at least 30 minutes; 1 hour is better). Work the chile and basil into the butter; you want a very thick compound butter, more herbs than not, as this helps the spread to stay on the chicken skin. Spread over the breast, wings and thighs of the chicken (a dry chicken skin also helps here; if the skin is wet, the butter spread will just slide off), concentrating on the leaner breast meat. Truss the legs and place on a greased V-shaped rack in a roasting pan or 9″ x 13″ baker.
- Roast at 450 degrees F for 10 – 15 minutes, or until you see golden color forming on the chicken skin. Lower the oven to 325 degrees F (300 degrees F convection) and continue to cook until an instant thermometer inserted into the thickest spot (between thigh and breast, without touching bone) reads at least 165 degrees F; start checking temperature after about 45 minutes. Baste occassionally with pan juices if you like (I usually baste when I am checking the temperature, but not often before).
- When chicken is done, remove from oven and allow to rest, tented under foil, for at least 20 minutes prior to carving. Serve with heated pan juices.
Serves 4 to 6.
- This is a basic roasted chicken recipe. Any combination of herbs will work.
- With 3 inch-long red dried chiles in the mix, this chicken has a spicy kick (my Mom wouldn’t be able to eat it) but I would put it on par with a medium-spicy salsa; you can taste the spice, but it’s not knocking your block off.
- Many people swear by a particular chicken roasting method: low heat, high heat, Zuni, spatchcock. By all means, use your favorite method. I am still trying to find the method that yields me a perfectly crispy skin, with perfectly juicy & tender breast meat, every time.
Refrigerated, for up to 1 week. Freeze the carcass to make chicken stock.
Year round, but I generally roast chickens in the winter, when I am happy to have the oven on for an hour, warming up the house.
- chicken: D’Artagnan organic chicken raised in Pennsylvania Dutch farm country
- salt: Rhode Island sea salt from Kenyon’s Gristmill
- basil: home-dried from my Ryder Farm CSA, Brewster, NY
- chiles: home-dried from Madura Farms, Goshen, NY
- butter: Ronnybrook, Ancramdale, NY