Perfect Rosemary-Laced Roast Chicken

I could eat herb-roasted chicken every day. 
These are a few of my favorite things

Wash the chicken, pat dry, add the olive oil
My herb-roast chicken meal has so many memory triggers from the smells and aromas while it is cooking in the oven. My mother made roast chicken often when I was growing up but I think it was in my own cooking adventures when chicken flew to the top of my all-time favorite meals.  I am pretty confident that if I asked my girls to name the one food they most associated with me it would be my classic roast chicken dinner. Even Lt. Mango, our 16 year old orange Persian, could he speak, would wax poetic about it's allure. 

I’m sharing the recipe below but once again have to remind you that each and every time I make this, the meal has a slight twist with something new and improvised each and every time. However, there are some basics guidelines that never change and some important roast chicken cooking rituals I relish.

Grate the garlic
My Aunt Annette used to say that chicken no longer tasted like chicken because of the mass produced methods of production. So, I try to find a free-range or organic chicken whenever possible since the flavor is richer particularly based on the feed that the chickens would eat.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and set the racks so you can put the chicken in the middle of the oven. A five pound chicken will take about an hour and 15 minutes to cook.

Rub the olive oil, garlic and kosher salt all
the chicken 

First, I washed the chicken in warm water and remove any of the internal organs that come in the little packages and are usually stuck in the cavity. It is critical to pat dry the chicken with a paper towel to remove as much moisture as possible. I place the chicken in a Pyrex glass rectangular container that has olive oil on the bottom so the chicken won’t stick.

Add black pepper and paprika
Next I drizzle olive oil on the top of the chicken while I grate 5 cloves of garlic. (A clove is the piece you break away from the garlic- an entire  unit of garlic is a head). I like to use my microplane to grate this garlic right on top of the chicken.  Next I sprinkle Kosher salt on top of the chicken. Finally, with well-washed hands, I massage the oil, salt and garlic all over the chicken. Make sure you thoroughly covered the entire chicken (both sides) with the oil, garlic and Kosher salt combo. Kosher salt is thicker and bigger than conventional salt and helps build the flavor.

Add fresh rosemary/thyme into the cavity

Next I chopped three carrots, two celery sticks and 1/3 of a Vidalia onion and place it around the chicken.

Marsala is added around the chicken
Next I wash fresh rosemary and thyme. I use different herbs depending on what I have that is fresh but rosemary and thyme are my go-to herbs for this meal. I stuff the herbs, sticks/stems and all into the cavity of the chicken. I then add black pepper and paprika to the top of the bird. Once completed, I add about 2 cups of Marsala wine around the chicken over the vegetables. Other wines can be used like Madeira, Sherry or even a dry Vermouth.

Grate lemon zest and finely chop basil

Put the chicken into the oven and set the timer for one hour. After about 30 minutes, open the oven and add some freshly grated lemon zest and finely chopped basil. I add these two ingredients at this point to help layer the flavors. Once you add them, put the chicken back in and let the chicken continue cooking.

Finely grated lemon zest
After the first hour, take the chicken out of the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes. I do this so that I can remove the breast/white meat which is cooked and finish cooking the dark legs and thighs. With a very sharp knife, I separate the breast and thigh by cutting along the line
 where the legs attached. It easily separates into two big pieces. Don’t fret if it isn’t a clean cut – just try and get the legs and thighs back into the pan and back in the oven for about 15 more minutes. The white meat and chicken breast can sit on a separate plate.

Boil water for REAL mashed potatoes
 Meanwhile, my favorite side dish is real mashed potatoes. Boil a pot of water and add 3 large baking potatoes peeled and cut into chunks. Boil the potatoes until fork tender and then drain the water. Add about 1/3 of a stick of butter and 1 cup of milk. Using a fork or a masher, mash the potatoes and add kosher salt to taste. Set it off heat.

This next part is my favorite part of this meal. I love to bring to my wife and daughters a taste of the mashed potatoes to whet their appetite. With the great smells of the roasted herbs and chicken lofting through the house, these spoonsful of love are little gifts of the moment. They are one of my signature joys.

Spoonfuls of love

Once the dark meat is finished, I like to cut the chicken into pieces and assemble on a plate. The carrot medley goes into the middle of the plate with some fresh sprigs of mint or parsley. 

Meanwhile, I take all of the liquid that is in the roasting pan and add about ½ cup of fresh Marsala and start to boil and reduce the liquid down. I love to add a bit of lemon or balsamic to deepen the flavor levels and add a bit of acidity to balance the richness. This is the basis of the sauce and is my favorite part of the meal. I love this intense brown rich reduced sauce flavor.

Separate white meat and dark meat

Leave dark meat (legs/thighs) in pan to continue roasting

Let the breast meat rest

In addition to the roast herbed chicken and mashed potatoes, we always have a simple green salad. This night it was soft organic Lacinato kale (sometimes called Dinosaur kale) leaves mixed with baby romaine, avocado and simply sliced radishes tossed in a basic vinaigrette (3 part EVOO/1 part balsamic vinaigrette).

My favorite thing- the reduced liquids naturally thicken. No need to add flour
but you can add butter if you want to enrich the flavor further

Time to eat

I like the dark meat with the Marsala reduced sauce 
I'm getting hungry just looking at my own photographs

As for wine, I think a Pinot Noir is usually the right choice. We enjoyed a Castle Rock Pinot Noir from Williamette Valley. It was a 2009 and probably could use a few more years but I couldn't wait. It had a lot of ripe black cherry notes and a little bit of a zesty flavor. On balance, perfect for this meal and harmonized well with the Marsala sauce. 

I love this meal so much that it feels like it is a love song to my wife and children. I don’t know of any other meal that gives me quite the same feeling or sense that all is well with the world.

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