The Unparalleled Versatility Of Chicken Part 3

To make a better chicken with just a little more effort, use the turning method. Start an untrussed chicken on one side (wing down) and roast 20 minutes at 375 degrees F. Turn it to the other side; roast another 20 minutes. Then turn the bird breast-up and roast until done. You'll have an evenly browned bird, with light and dark meat perfectly cooked.

The easiest way to prepare a chicken for roasting is simply to take it out of its wrapping, remove giblets, rinse it, pat it dry, and put it on a roasting rack. You can improve it by rubbing the skin with salt, pepper, and butter or oil. A halved onion or lemon in the cavity will also enhance flavor. Or, if you're more adventurous, try brining (soaking the chicken in a cold saltwater bath).

Whatever prep you do, and whatever roasting method you choose, you'll be fine if you remember the Golden Rule of Chicken - Don't overcook or undercook it.

Easy, Perfect Chicken

The good news: There's an easy way to get perfect chicken. The bad news: It requires a special piece of equipment.

You may have a clay pot, but it's probably gathering dust on the top shelf of a closet somewhere, in close company with the fondue pot and electric knife. If you do, get it down and dust it off. If you don't, a Dutch oven makes a passable substitute.

First, soak the clay pot in water for 10 to 15 minutes (to prevent cracking). Rub some salt and pepper, and maybe the dried herb of your choice, over the chicken and put it in the pot. Surround it with vegetables - carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips. If you like, add a cup of wine or beer. Put the pot in a cold oven (again, to keep it from cracking), and set the oven to 450 degrees F. A three-pound chicken will be done in about an hour and a quarter.

If you're using a Dutch oven, there's no need to start with a cold oven. Simply put the chicken and vegetables in the pot, and put the pot in the oven with the lid slightly ajar so steam can escape (in the clay pot, it escapes through the pores).

The clay pot method has one disadvantage: You don't get the perfect, brown, crispy skin of a traditional roast chicken. If that's important to you, either for aesthetic reasons or because you're one of the seven people in the country who still eat chicken skin, then you may prefer traditional roasting. The clay pot does, however, have several advantages that may outweigh the bronzed skin of the roast-and-turn method. For starters, it's a one-step process. It's also clean - no mess in the oven. And it comes with its own side dish of roasted vegetables. The biggest advantage, though, is that the liquid that accumulates in the pot keeps the chicken from drying out, even if you leave it in the oven for just a little too long.

In short, you get everything - a little leeway in cooking, a side dish, and a perfect chicken. It just doesn't get much better than that.

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