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Chicken -- a favorite for four millenniums; Roaster: From ancient times to today, people have known the aroma and pleasure of chicken.


There's nothing quite like the aroma of a chicken dinner roasting in the oven to awaken the senses on a cold winter evening.

When did people begin to eat chicken? By 2000 B.C. in India, the wild red jungle fowl was domesticated. Central Europeans were eating chicken around 1500 B.C.

* Advantages: Most people believe chicken skin adds unnecessary fat to the diet. Cooking the bird with the skin intact, however, helps to develop the flavor and keep the meat moist. The skin can be removed before serving. Studies show the fat content of the average-size oven-roasted chicken remains about the same whether the skin is removed before or after cooking.

What are the best birds for roasting? In winter, I prefer a heartier roasting chicken. The flesh of roasters is firm and full-flavored, perfect for withstanding prolonged oven heat. Roasters weigh between 3 1/2 and 6 1/2 pounds and easily serve four. You can roast a smaller fryer for two people, but these more immature birds are best suited to the short, fast heat of grilling.

* Selecting a roaster: The chicken should have smooth, yellow skin, free of tears, bruises and blemishes. The more mature roaster should have fat visible around its neck and interior cavity. If you are looking for fuller flavor, select kosher, free-range or Amish roasters, which are more moist and tender than the commercial variety. Avoid frozen roasters, which can be tough.

* Preparing your roaster: Remove the neck and other parts from the cavity. Rinse the bird well under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels. Season inside and out with sea salt and a generous dose of freshly ground black pepper. Fold the wing tip behind the center wing bone, then secure by tucking under the neck bone. Repeat with the remaining wing. Cut a one-inch slice through the meat at the end of the drumstick. Insert the end of the other drumstick through the incision to secure legs, and place the bird in a roasting pan.

* Tricks of the trade: After seasoning the chicken and before roasting, rub the skin with softened butter or a little canola or olive oil. This step helps to brown the skin quickly and make it crisp.

* Serving suggestions: As long as you have the oven fired up, whole roasted garlic will please the palate and ward off that winter cold. Figure one head of garlic per person, although some may favor two. Slice in two, rub with a little olive oil and add to the roasting pan after the initial searing. Cook until very tender or mushy, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and keep warm. Serve with earthy peasant bread, grilled or toasted with a touch of olive oil. Serve the roaster with hearty root vegetables.

Roast Chicken With Rosemary

Serves 4

4 large heads garlic, cut in half on the equator

1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock or wine, if needed

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 bunch fresh rosemary

1 five-pound roasting chicken

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil to 300-325 degrees. Add the rosemary sprigs and cook until crisp, about 3 minutes, or until the oil stops bubbling around the rosemary. Using a slotted spoon, remove the rosemary and drain on paper towels. When cool, remove the rosemary leaves from the stems, reserving four full sprigs for garnish. Allow the oil to cool.

Thoroughly rinse the roaster inside and out under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels. Salt and pepper the cavity and skin. Truss it to ensure even cooking or follow the directions given in the story above. Place the chicken on a rack in an oven-proof roasting pan or skillet. Rub a couple of tablespoons of the rosemary oil across the skin of the chicken. Place on the lower rack with the legs toward the back of the oven. (The legs take longer to cook and the rear of the oven is hotter.)

Cook until the bird starts to brown, about 15-20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. Rub the surfaces of the garlic with a little of the remaining rosemary oil. Add the garlic to the roasting skillet and cook until tender, about 45 minutes. Remove the garlic and keep warm while continuing to cook the chicken until done, about 40 minutes more; an instant-read meat thermometer inserted in the thigh should read 180 degrees and the juices should run clear. Remove from the oven.

Pour the cooking fat and juices into a glass measuring cup. Let stand until the fat rises to the top. Spoon off and discard the fat. If the juices are caramelized in the pan, add 1/2 cup stock or wine to reconstitute over medium heat, scraping up any browned bits.

Allow the chicken to rest before carving. Remove the skin and carve the chicken. Divide the pieces onto warm serving plates. Spoon the juices over the chicken and top with rosemary leaves. Position the garlic heads beside the chicken. Garnish with a sprig of crisped rosemary.

Per serving, 6 ounces of meat without skin: 424 calories (54 percent from fat); 25 grams fat (5 grams saturated fat); 1 gram carbohydrate; 45 grams protein; 140 milligrams sodium; 139 milligrams cholesterol; 35 milligrams calcium; 0 grams fiber

Pub Date: 02/03/99

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