In my house, the first of October marks the start of pre-“holiday” season. This is also the time my brother calls to tell me he is already drawing up plans for where he plans to hang the 10,000 holiday lights he owns. My sister calls to discuss who’s going to be where for which holiday and I’m already thinking about the turkey that needs roasting in less than two months’ time.
How does one prepare for roasting the Thanksgiving table pièce de résistance? Most of us, myself included, roast a turkey once a year. You either get it right on the big day, or you serve it dry and burnt and hope things go better the following year when you can’t remember what you did or didn’t do the year before. What can be done to help flex those poultry roasting muscles before it’s game time?
Two words: Roast chicken.
I encourage you to join me in the pre-season workout of roasting a chicken once a week between now and Thanksgiving. Let me tell you why.
Roasting a chicken is almost the identical process to roasting a turkey except it’s smaller, less expensive, takes less time—and if it doesn’t turn out right, no big deal. You can make adjustments to your roasting method and try again the following week. As a bonus, leftover roast chicken is perfect for weeknight meals: enchiladas, chicken noodle soup and Caesar salad to name a few.
Each week you can experiment with the aromatics you stuff inside, the seasonings you rub on the outside, the veggies you roast alongside and whether or not you want to brine your bird. You can also take the time to try various brands of chicken from your grocery store or from different farmers at the farmers’ market. You can even go crazy and start whipping up gravy from the drippings.
Each time you roast that whole bird, you will gain confidence. Best of all, your family will adore you for filling the home with such comforting smells.
By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, you will be in tip-top shape for roasting “the big bird.”
1 whole, fresh 5-6-pound chicken
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Softened butter, olive oil, grape seed oil, or avocado oil
Aromatic options to stuff inside: lemon slices, garlic cloves, onion slices, celery, leeks, and/or shallots
Herbs options to stuff inside: rosemary, thyme, parsley, and/or sage
Remove the packet of giblets from inside the bird. Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Liberally salt and pepper the outside of bird. Place breast-side-up on a plate and stick in refrigerator for an hour, or up to 24 hours. This helps dry out the skin, which gives you that coveted crispness when it’s done roasting.
Take chicken out of refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and arrange a rack in the middle.
Generously sprinkle the inside of the chicken with salt and pepper. Fill up the inside with aromatics and herbs of your choosing. Tie the legs together and tuck the wings up underneath. Rub the outside of the bird with approximately 2 tablespoons of butter or oil. Sprinkle the outside again with salt and pepper.
Stick on a roasting pan or cast iron skillet, and pop it in your preheated oven for about 1 hour 30 minutes. Cooking is complete when a thermometer inserted into the inner thigh registers 165 degrees. Check temperature at the one hour mark.
Remove from oven and place on a cutting board. Let chicken rest for 15-20 minutes before carving. While it’s resting, stand back and enjoy your handiwork—knowing that you are on your way to being in shape for game time.