I have fond memories of Sunday suppers featuring roasted chicken. My mother would slow cook the bird, and over the course of the afternoon, it would gradually infuse the entire house with a homey, comforting aroma.
Once it was finally ready, my dad would use what seemed to a child’s eyes a dramatically huge knife to carve it at the table, serving us each a generous slice. The process of roasting, carving, and eating was an all-day event that brought together the family in a most joyful way.
Unfortunately, roasting and carving a chicken is often far less idyllic a scene. Poorly roasted chicken can result in a lackluster meal: nobody likes a chicken that is over or undercooked, bland and flavorless. But how to avoid kitchen calamity with roasted chicken? Luckily, it’s easier than you might think.
Common Mistakes to Avoid for Roasting and Carving a Chicken. When a roasted chicken goes “wrong”, it’s usually due to one of these common errors. Don’t despair: each of them are quite easy to identify, and to remedy.
- You don’t buy a quality chicken. If you think this sounds like common sense advice, you’re correct. Technique will only carry you so far when it comes to the perfect roasted chicken. If you don’t start with quality ingredients, your chicken won’t make for a memorable meal.
Use the best quality chicken you can buy, from a trusted source. Using a frozen chicken is just fine, but check that there are no added ingredients, stabilizers, or preservatives. Also, always be sure to check the expiration date listed on the packaging.
- You don’t let the chicken come to room temperature before roasting. Commonly, people will take the chicken right out of the fridge and pop it on to the roasting pan and into the oven. This can result in uneven cooking. For the best results, let your chicken come to room temperature directly before cooking, for at least 30 minutes but no more than an hour.
During the time when your chicken comes to room temperature, it might release some moisture and condensation. Be sure to pat the chicken dry before putting it in the oven, as this added moisture can impart a soggy texture on the skin.
- You’re wimpy with seasoning. Do you sprinkle the top of the chicken with salt and call it seasoned? It may be time to re-think this method. A generous coating of salt actually helps seal in moisture, and makes the chicken skin nice and crispy.
Be sure to season the entire chicken–not just the top. Pat salt and pepper on the top, sides, bottom, under the wings, and even inside the cavity. Other seasonings can be added to taste, including stuffing makings in the cavity.
- You try for a moderate cooking method. There are two primary ways to roast a chicken: quickly, in a very hot oven, or slowly, in a lower temperature oven. Each has its advantages: a chicken roasted quicker at a high temperature will have crackling, crispy skin; a slow-cooked chicken will have extremely tender, fork-tender meat. Which aspect is more important to you? That can help inform your decision.
The type of roasting to avoid is in a moderate oven. It won’t cook long enough to make the meat as tender, but the moderate heat won’t be high enough for crispy skin. This middle of the road approach is more likely than not to leave you with a dried-out, lackluster chicken.
- You throw away the fat. Chicken releases fat which drips to the bottom of the roasting pan. To waste this fat is criminal, since it’s the pure essence of chicken flavor. An obvious way to use this fat is to drip it back on top of the chicken. But if you choose not to do this, there are a number of good ways to make use of this fat in other cooking projects.
For one, you could reserve it and use it as part of chicken soup later. For another, you could spread it on toast for an especially decadent treat. Or, you could line the pan with vegetables and let them roast in the fat for a full-flavored side dish. Or, you could make a chicken dripping version of Yorkshire pudding.
- You don’t let the chicken rest before carving. Do you start cutting the bird right out of the oven? While it’s understandable that you’re hungry, show some restraint–at least for 10 minutes or so. The chicken will actually continue to cook internally for several minutes after it is removed from the oven.
This resting period will allow the cooking process to complete, and to seal in the moisture and juices that would seep out if you cut too soon. So, do yourself a favor and increase the flavor by letting your chicken sit for several minutes before carving.
- You don’t use the right carving knife. If you try to carve a chicken with a paring knife, hilarity may ensue, but clean, tempting slices of chicken will not. For best results, be sure to have a suitable knife on hand.
A carving knife and fork is an obvious choice, but not everybody has these tools in their kitchen. You actually don’t need a fancy (or electric) carving knife to cut a chicken: a chef’s knife will suffice. This is a tool which should be in every kitchen, anyway, so it is well worth the investment.
- You aren’t educated on how to carve. Do you just take a knife to the chicken and start hacking? This is not the way to go about it.
While there is not just one single method for cutting a chicken, this method for carving a roast chicken is easy to follow and educational. It teaches you how to go about carving the chicken for optimal results.
A perfectly roasted and carved chicken is well within your reach. Once you’ve mastered these simple methods for maximizing flavor and form, you’ll be impressing guests in no time with your classic, homestyle offerings.
Have you ever carved a roasted chicken?