Whole Bird: Why We Should Roast More Chickens

When I think back, I recall my mother and grandmother roasting a lot of meats. At home there were pork roasts and lamb roasts on weekends, chicken thighs covered in onion flakes from a big plastic jar during the week. My grandmother roasted her chicken thighs with mushroom, onions, peas, and a wine sauce – one of the only dishes I refused to eat as a child besides liver.

And there was, of course, the enormous Thanksgiving turkey, shrinking over the years as the family dispersed, roasted that day until the plastic timer popped up and the meat was dry and then split up for leftovers, sandwiches, and turkey soup.

What there never seemed to be in my family full of loyal carnivores was a whole roast chicken. Not once can I recall anyone – but certainly not my mother – roasting an entire chicken. I was an only child for a long time so there weren’t many mouths to feed, roasting a chicken took more than 30 minutes, and what would we do with a whole bird anyway?

Plenty, as it would turn out, which is why I say it’s time to go back to roasting the whole bird. No more skinless breasts and meagerly seasoned thighs purchased separately. Roasting a whole chicken is just too easy not to do – and what happens after you roast it is too rewarding.

Roast a whole chicken because it’s easy. Just shove some chopped up onions and garlic under the skin with butter, oil the outside, season the skin, and pop it in the garden. Or go the Ina Garten route; her perfect roast chicken is surrounded by veggies and stuffed with an entire lemon and garlic for flavor. It doesn’t get any easier.

Roast a whole chicken to impress your friends or because you want leftovers. If I roast an entire chicken, I know that ShelterButch and I are fed for a few days. I took part of our last roast chicken on vacation in a cooler and made a simple spinach and tomato salad when we got there with moist, cold chicken on top. I drop bits of it into soup broth for ramen that’s better than your average out of the package version. I put it on toast for breakfast. And I save the bones.

This is where even my grandmother probably thinks I’m crazy. She makes turkey soup from the Thanksgiving carcass to distribute to the family. When I was a kid, she made tomato sauce for most of the year while the garden was overflowing, freezing it for use in the next months. But as far as I can recall, almost all the broth she used came directly from a bouillon cube. The same goes for my mother: bouillon cubes and boxed stock. I am in the process, however, of phases out broth purchases. I make my own.

The thing about making broth is that it’s much easier than everyone seems to think. I save the bones from the chicken and the vegetable scraps from my various cooking projects in the freezer, then drop it all into a big pot with plenty of water and let it boil for an hour or so. Strain and store. I usually just freeze mine in a few bigger containers and in small, single serve versions – I pour the cooled broth into silicone cupcake containers, freeze them, and then pop them out. Then they get stuck into a big plastic bag and used as needed. I melt it right into recipes.

Besides the fact that it’s delicious and feeds us for days, making broth might be the best part of roasting a whole chicken. Bone broth is all the rage right now, isn’t it? Well, I’m making my own – and eating the chicken too. It’s a win-win when not much else is. Do you need more reasons to go for the whole bird?

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