Roast chicken is a very easy dish to make, and it is also quite satisfying. It can run the gamut from simple to complex, and may serve as food for a dinner party or as the basis for a week's meals. In all cases, it starts with a basic roast chicken, which is a recipe that can be endlessly tweaked and changed to meet various tastes. Once you learn how to roast a chicken, you can make an assortment of foods from chicken soup to chicken salad.
To prepare this dish, you first needs a whole chicken. Most butchers and markets carry them in a range of sizes. Many also include the giblets, the internal organs of the chicken, usually in a small bag inside the body cavity. To select a good chicken, look for one that is as fresh as possible, and preferably has not been frozen. If ethical livestock raising practices are important to you, consider buying chicken directly from a farm, or purchasing humanely raised chickens.
Ideally, you should purchase a chicken to roast on the day that you intend to cook it. The fresher the chicken is, the more flavorful it will be. When you get your bird home, put it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it, and try not to wait more than two days. If you intend to marinate the chicken before roasting it, mix an appropriate marinade, remove the chicken from its packaging, and take the giblets out. Make sure to marinate the chicken in a closed container, and always marinate in the refrigerator, not on the counter.
When you are ready to roast the chicken, preheat the oven to 375°F (191°C) and pull the chicken out of refrigeration. If it has been marinated, place it in a large roasting pan and roast it for around 45 minutes to an hour, until the internal temperature measures 165°F (78°C) on a meat thermometer. If you have not marinated the chicken, you will want to season it for flavor.
A very basic seasoning for roast chicken involves olive oil, herbs, salt, and pepper. Herbes de Provence go quite well with roast chicken, but you can also use spice rubs and other spice mixes. Take the chicken out of its packaging, remove the giblets, and wash your hands thoroughly. Drizzle olive oil on the chicken, rub it in, and follow with the spice rub. Insert cloves of garlic for an extra shot of flavor. Make sure to cover both sides of the chicken, and then place it in an oiled roasting pan to cook.
When you roast a chicken, it will dry out without basting. Basting involves brushing or squeezing liquids onto the chicken to keep it moist as it cooks. Often, the liquids that accumulate in the bottom of the roasting pan are enough for this task, but if these are not sufficient, you can baste the chicken with oil, pats of butter, marinade, or juices while it roasts. When finished, the chicken will have a golden, crackly skin and moist, tender flesh. Deglaze the pan to collect the juices and make a simple gravy.
After the chicken is roasted, it should sit for a few moments before being brought to table and carved. Unused portions should be promptly refrigerated, and remember to save the bones to make chicken stock. The giblets are also useful in chicken stock, and they can be browned in the pan along with vegetables and spices. Giblets such as the liver can also be minced, cooked, and combined with the deglazed contents of the pan for a more rich gravy.