There was a set menu in my house while I was growing up. Thursday was always chicken night. I loved chicken night, but I did, however, learn to ask for the dark meat. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the white meat, but if you didn’t get it from the thick end of the breast, it would take an extra glass of milk to wash it down because it was more than just a little dry.
When Mom cooked the chicken, she would take it out of the bag and put it right into the oven without doing anything to it. As we got older and our taste buds got a little more refined, she would sprinkle a little salt on it. Once in a while she would even baste it once during the cooking time. It was still pretty dry and the dark meat was still the best.
If you would like to make a simple sauce for the chicken, take the chicken out of the pan to rest before slicing and add a little sherry to deglaze the pan on the stove top.
These days, I still eat a lot of chicken. Most of the time, I get a family package of thighs or full legs. I’ll portion the chicken out and freeze it. Sometimes, I will cook a whole chicken if I am having guests for dinner or if I want leftovers’ for sandwiches. Whether you are cooking a whole chicken or parts, there are a few easy things you can do to keep the chicken moist and add a lot of flavor.
When cooking a whole chicken, first you will want to season it. Rub the inside cavity of the body with a good amount of garlic, sage, rosemary, basil, salt and pepper. You can be fairly generous with the amounts because you are putting the spices on mostly bones and you want the flavor to permeate the meat.
Once the cavity is seasoned, tie the legs so that they are pulled back and close to the body of the bird. The legs will cover the thin part of the breast, which will keep that section of meat from over cooking and drying out. Once tied, rub the outside of the body with sage, rosemary, basil, salt and pepper.
Now that the bird is seasoned and tied, it is ready to cook. Turn the oven on to 350 degrees and put the pan on a burner on the stove to get hot. Some people like to spread a little oil or butter over the outside to help it crisp up and brown. If you are going to throw the chicken into the oven, that is a good idea.
If you brown the bird on top of the stove first, then I find there is enough fat in the skin so that you do not need the extra oil. I find browning it on top of the stove will sear it a little quicker and keep the meat a tiny bit moister. Once the pan on the stove is hot, put the chicken in skin side or breast side down. Let the skin get a nice golden brown and then roll the bird a little until the entire outside is golden. Flip the bird right side up and place it in the oven for about 45 minutes or so depending on the size of the chicken. To test if it is done, push a small sharp knife through the thickest part of the thigh all the way to the bone. If the juice comes out clear then the chicken is ready. But if there is any red in the juice, then it still needs a little more time.
Thighs and legs
If you are just cooking thighs or legs, and want to add a little flavor, try this simple tip. Peel the skin back away from the meat but not all the way. Season the meat with the herbs, salt and pepper and replace the skin. Sprinkle a little more seasoning over the skin and over the bottom of the meat. Get your pan hot on top of the stove. Place the chicken skin side down in the pan to brown the skin and then once the skin is golden, flip the meat over and place right away into the oven to finish.
If you would like to make a simple sauce for the chicken, take the chicken out of the pan to rest before slicing and add a little sherry to deglaze the pan on the stove top. Use a wooden spoon to be sure to free up all the chicken and herb parts that have stuck to the pan. When the sherry is almost evaporated, add a little water and let that cook down. All you need is a little of this juice drizzled over your chicken to add a lot more flavor. Enjoy the meal.
1 whole chicken
2 cloves garlic
½ T rosemary
½ T basil
1 T salt
1 T pepper
1 oz. sherry
3 oz. water
12 inches butchers twine
Combine the finely chopped garlic with three-quarters of the herbs and rub the inside of the chicken well. Put a few knife wholes in the lemon and place inside the cavity. Loop the twine around the front of the chicken and then up around the legs to pull the legs back close to the body of the bird and tie it off. Brown the skin on top of the oven and finish in the oven at 350 degree for 45 minutes or until the juice comes out clear when the thickest part of the thigh is pierced with a small sharp knife.
For thighs, pull the skin back but not off completely from the meat. Season the meat with the sage, rosemary, basil, salt and pepper. Replace the skin and season the top of the skin with just a little more of the seasonings. Place the chicken skin side down in a hot pan on the stove-top to brown the skin. Flip the chicken over and put it into the oven to finish.
Smitty is a personal chef specializing in dinner parties, cooking classes and special events. Trained under Master Chef Anton Flory at Top Notch Resort in Stowe, Vt., Smitty is known for his creative use of fresh ingredients. To read archived copies of Smitty’s column, visit chefsmitty.com or TheTahoeWeekly.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 412-3598.