Baking or roasting a whole chicken is relatively easy, and should result in a delicious, succulent and juicy bird, with a crispy skin. Begin by choosing a fresh, four to five pound chicken. This is the ideal size for roasting. A smaller bird can be used, but is really better if fried or broiled and may become slightly dry if roasted. A bird that is much larger should really be stewed and may remain tough if roasted.
Preparing the Chicken
Remove the giblet package from inside the chicken, or remove the liver and gizzard if these are loose in the cavity. You may roast these if you wish. Inside the cavity, on either side, you will find a lump of fat attached to the skin. Pull these two lumps off and throw them away.
Wash the chicken in clear water and pat the skin dry with a paper towel. A dryer skin will become crisper when the bird is cooked.
Seasoning Your Bird
Season the chicken inside and out with salt and freshly ground pepper. You may also add some herbs to the seasoning for a delicious and slightly different flavor. Thyme, rosemary or sage may be used, as you prefer. If you have herbs that are whole and dry, you can work them with a mortar and pestle before seasoning the bird. Fresh herbs can be used whole or cut with a scissors, and powdered herbs are used right out of the bottle. Sprinkle the herbs inside the bird and rub onto the skin. Also, work some of the herbs under the skin of the breast and down next to the chicken thigh.
When the bird is properly seasoned, fold the wing tips back under the bird and tie the ends of the legs together with a piece of string. Now, leave the bird for up to a half an hour. Allowing it to come to room temperature before you begin cooking will insure that the bird cooks more evenly. Also, giving the skin a chance to dry out thoroughly will result in a crispier skin.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Rub the chicken with vegetable oil or spray with a cooking spray. Place the chicken breast side down in a roasting pan on top of a trivet or rack. Place the chicken in the oven and turn down the heat to 350 degrees. Cook for 1 to 1½ hours. Half way through the cooking time, turn the chicken breast side up.
The chicken will be done when the skin is golden brown and the meat is entirely cooked. Breast meat is done when the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees, as measured by a meat thermometer. Dark meat should be cooked to 180 degrees. Allow the bird to rest for 10 minutes before carving.
There is no better compliment to a well-cooked chicken than your own homemade gravy. Pour off most of the grease and drippings from the pan in which you cooked the chicken, leaving 2 tablespoons of grease. If you wish, you can pour off all of the grease and add two tablespoons of butter or margarine. To this, add two tablespoons of flour. Cook on low heat, stirring with a wire whisk until the mixture is smooth. Try to incorporate all of the drippings that are left in the pan.
Turn off the heat and cool slightly. Add two cups of liquid, composed of chicken stock, milk, and a small amount of dry white wine, in any combination you prefer. Return to the heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the gravy is thickened. Adjust the seasonings. You may add the chopped up roasted giblets for giblet gravy.