When we decided to move to Philadelphia last year, we walked through all the regular emotions associated with cross-country moves: already homesick, full of wanderlust, a little afraid and overwhelmed, but totally excited. Philadelphia was never on my list of dream cities, but once we made the choice, I set my sights on one thing: Amish produce.
It’s hard to know which parts of your life will be remembered as some of the sweetest as they unfold, but I already know those first summery weeks in Philadelphia will. Easy days, breezing about town on foot, and popping bright orange cherry tomatoes into my mouth. Everything was sweet.
Broadly speaking, I am a person of self-control, but a bustling farmer’s market is not a safe place for me to be alone. Within the hour on one particular Saturday, I procured more produce than would fit in my market bags in addition to a bouquet of wild flowers picked by a little Amish girl, a carton of eggs, raw sheep’s milk cheese, a basil plant and an Amish chicken. At one point I ran out of hands and was holding lose eggs in my maxi shirt—It was a low point and a high point all at the same time.
I can’t imagine what all the brunching couples thought as I waddled past the cafe windows with too much to carry, or what the ticket attendant on the train thought when I occupied the seat next to me with a basil plant. I didn't care, I was a new girl in town about to have the best roasted chicken.
Feeling fairly apt to roast a chicken, things became increasingly unfamiliar once I realized that if you buy a chicken from an Amish man at the farmer's market, that chicken does not come cleanly gutted or de-necked for you. So this chicken and I got to know each other quite well that afternoon, and it’s funny—once you gut a chicken once, nothing else really feels that intimidating.
I’m now in the habit of splurging on an Amish chicken every couple of months and going through the somewhat dirty process of preparing it. Although I have no part in its care before it reached my hands, there is joy in knowing that an Amish family properly raised this chicken before it nourishes my little family. Beginning to end, there is grace and economy in dealing with the whole animal.
If roasting a whole chicken intimidates you, don't let it! You will be so pleased with yourself at the end, and everyone sitting around your dinner table will be pleased too.
roasted chicken :: orange, rosemary, garlic
Serves a crowd of 5-6. Method adapted loosely from Alice Water's The Art of Simple Food.
While you certainly don’t have to seek out an Amish bird specifically, I would urge anyone buying a whole chicken (or any meat for that matter) to seek it out with care by purchasing one that was raised naturally. It will make all the difference in the flavor! It feels easier for me to spend a few extra dollars here knowing that I will get plenty of leftovers and a couple quarts of stock out of the deal.
What you'll need:
1 pasture raised chicken, 4-5 lbs
4-5 sprigs fresh rosemary
4-5 cloves of garlic
salt + pepper
24-48 hours before roasting, season the chicken by rubbing salt and pepper all over the inside and outside. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and refrigerate. (While this step isn't 100% necessary, it will help the chicken stay moist and flavorful while roasting. It's worth the extra planning.) One hour before beginning the roast, take the chicken out of the fridge to bring to room temperature. Make a gremolata of sorts by coarsely chopping the rosemary and garlic. I quite like having rustic pieces of garlic and herb in my chicken so I leave them larger than I would for other recipes. Zest one orange and add it to small bowl with rosemary and garlic. Cover the mixture with olive oil and allow those flavors mingle as the chicken warms up.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Working with your already gutted chicken, gently separate the skin from the breast. Rub 1/2 of the gremolata between the skin and breast, working as far down the bird as possible. Rub the remainder of the gremolata all over the outside. Slice the zested orange in half, and stuff it inside the cavity. Tie the chicken legs together with baker's twine and tuck the wings underneath themselves to prevent the tips from burning while roasting.
Starting with the breast side up, send the chicken to the oven, and roast for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and flip the bird to roast bread side down for 20 minutes. Last time, remove from oven and roast 20 more minutes, breast side up. Let rest for an additional 20 minutes.
That's 20 mins up, 20 mins down, 20 mins up, 20 mins rest. Dig in!