Sunday, March 14, 2010

Recipe: Cast Iron Skillet Roasted Chicken

Cast iron skillet roasted chicken, fresh from the oven

Cast iron and roast chicken were meant for each other.  Roasting your chicken in a cast iron skillet lets you make an amazing gravy right in the skillet while the chicken rests before carving.  This recipe uses high heat to crisp the skin and speed up the cooking time.

In our family, we roast a bird at least twice a month.  It's classy enough to serve to guests, but quick enough for a weeknight family meal. The leftovers are quick to disappear, and are also easily incorporated into lots of other dishes. 

I'm a big fan of brining the chicken before roasting, but if you've got a raw chicken ready to go, just salt and pepper it liberally (more on this below).


For the roasted chicken:
  • 1 3-4 lb. whole chicken (two are pictured above, of course)
  • oil
  • salt
  • pepper
For the gravy:
  • 2 tablespoons gluten free all-purpose flour (or wheat flour)
  • 1 cup water
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dry white wine
Making the Chicken
Remove packaging from your chicken, take out the bag of giblets from inside the cavity, and then rinse the bird in cold water. Brine the chicken for 24 hours (give or take) in a brine consisting of 1 cup kosher salt (or 1/2 cup table salt) to 1 gallon of water.  You can also use beer for the liquid instead of water, or mix water and beer.  Don't be afraid to add herbs and spices to the brine if you like. Choices might include thyme, bay leaves, black pepper, or even chili powder. 

If you don't have 24 hours to spare before roasting, double the salt and brine the bird for 4 hours. If you don't have time to brine at all, simply salt and pepper the bird heavily, inside and out, before roasting. IN this scenario, you'll use a solid 5 teaspoons of kosher salt and 2 teaspoons of black pepper for a 3-4 lb. chicken. Kosher salt makes it easier to get an even spread and helps prevent over-salting. If using traditional (more finely-ground) table salt, reduce quantities by half.

Half an hour before your ready to roast the chicken, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Remove the chicken from the brine, and pat it dry with paper towels.  Oil a large cast iron skillet lightly, salt and pepper the chicken inside and out (lightly if you brined it, heavily per the above if you didn't), and place it in the cast iron skillet breast side down.

Roast the chicken for 45-75 minutes—until the center of the thickest part of the breast registers 160 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. Check the thigh as well to make sure it has come up to at least 160 degrees F.  Baste the bird while it is roasting every 5-10 minutes with a brush or turkey baster. The final temperature of the meat should be 165 degrees F.  It will continue cooking up to this temperature after you remove it from the oven.

Important notes about using an instant-read meat thermometer:
  1. Begin checking the temperature of your chicken well before it could possibly be done (at about 35 minutes of cooking time in this recipe).  Oven temperatures and the starting temperature of the chicken will vary from kitchen to kitchen—and you will get surprised by an over-achieving oven once in a while.   
  2. The point of using a meat thermometer is to nail the temperature perfectly.  If you don't know the rate at which the meat temperature is rising, you won't be able to nail it perfectly. The only way to obtain the rate at which the temperature is rising is to take multiple readings over time.  Check the temperature every 5-10 minutes, depending on how fast the temperature is rising, and how close to the end point you are.
  3. Stay away from the bones when checking temperature, and be sure to move the thermometer deeper and shallower in the hole you've made to ensure you are measuring the lowest temperature.  Don't be afraid to try a few spots to find the lowest temperature.

Pull the chicken from the oven when it's ready, and place it on a cutting board. Tent it with aluminum foil and let it sit for 15 minutes while you make the gravy.

Making the Gravy
You want to begin with 2 tablespoons of "liquid gold," which is the rendered fat, juices, and browned bits of goodness left in the skillet once you've removed the chicken (see photo at right).

If you've got more than 2 tablespoons, pour off (or suction out with a turkey baster) excess fat. Be sure not to remove any of the brown juice that you've got since this is the key to the gravy's flavor (only remove clear rendered fat). The clear fat will float on top, and the brown juice or "liquid gold" will sit at the bottom. If you don't have enough juice and fat left over, add butter or oil until you've got 2 tablespoons.

Place the cast iron skillet with drippings on the stovetop. Turn the heat on medium  Add 2 tablespoons of Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All-Purpose Flour (or just about any other flour) to the skillet.

Stir things around with a wooden spatula to form a thick paste, and then add about half of the water.  Use the spatula to scrape any fond (browned bits) off the bottom of the skillet.  Continue adding water as the gravy thickens. After adding about a cup of water, you have a thin gravy. 

If the gravy gets over-thick as it continues to cook, add more water carefully.  Once you've got the water quantity dialed in and the thickness of the gravy has stabilized, lower the heat to a gentle simmer.

Taste it.

You'll probaly need to season the gravy with salt and pepper.  Once you have the seasoning worked out, add a splash of white wine (about a tablespoon) to give it a more refined flavor. 

As your gravy simmers, carve up the chicken, and serve it all together with your favorite mashed potatoes.