Here is the chicken I grew up eating- we raised our own meat birds, and so chicken was on the menu often. A classic Sunday roast, we'd put two fat roasting birds in a big enamelware roasting pan before church, leave it unattended, and come home to perfectly roasted chicken to take to my beloved Grandma Carol's house for Sunday lunch, which was always a highlight of the week.
This method is somewhere between a roast chicken and a braised chicken, and the results are a meltingly tender bird, alongside vegetables that roast around the chicken in the pan drippings, which are indescribably delicious. An onion that slowly cooks in chicken drippings is better than any onion you've ever had, trust me. It's so easy, I think I was making this when I was 7 or 8, so have faith in yourself if you're new to cooking chicken!
This recipe is more of a method- play around with the vegetables if you like, but don't skip the onions!
Do save the bones and any bits of chicken meat, skin and pan drippings you don't eat and make broth with them! My favorite broth is made from an already roasted and picked over chicken carcass, the resulting broth has a richer flavor than broth made from an unroasted chicken. Leftover meat is delicious as is, of course, and I often eat it straight from the fridge, with plenty of good salt and whole grain mustard. I also like to use leftover chicken for soups, enchiladas, chicken salad etc.
For this to work well, you'll need a large dutch oven, large/tall enough to accomodate the size of your chicken and vegetables, with the lid on, or alternatively, an enamel roasting pan with a lid, like this one It's crucial to have a dutch oven or roasting tin that is deep enough, to allow the lid to close once the chicken is in the pan.
-1 (or 2 if your roasting pan allows) whole chicken, any size
-4 to 5 medium cooking onions, skins removed and cut into quarters
-2 whole heads garlic, papery skins removed from each clove
-5-6 of your choice of red or yellow roasting potatoes, or sweet potatoes (japanese sweet potatoes hold up best here), cut in half if very large
-a few large carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
-dried or fresh herbs of your choice (sage, oregano, thyme and rosemary are all nice)
-plenty of salt and freshly cracked black pepper
-2 cups water
1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Rinse and pat dry chicken, and check to see if your chicken has the neck and giblets stuffed inside the cavity. Some purchased birds do, and sometimes they're encased in a little plastic bag, in which case remove the plastic bag. You can roast the neck and giblets right alongside the chicken in the bottom of the pan if desired, or reserve them for making stock with the leftover chicken carcass.
2. Place your quartered onions, garlic cloves, carrots and potatoes on the bottom of the roasting pan, then place the chicken on top of them, breast side up. You may need to jostle things around to ensure the lid to your roasting pan will fit.
3. Liberally season the chicken and vegetables with salt ( at least a teaspoon) and pepper, and herbs of your choice if using them. A few large pinches of dried herbs is sufficient, and if you're using fresh herbs, use a bit more.
4. Pour two cups water into the bottom of the roasting pan, then place the lid on and ensure it's secure. This is important because you want the water you're adding now, plus the juices the chicken releases as it cooks, to stay put, instead of evaporating.
5. Place the chicken on the center rack of the oven, and roast for 2.5-3.5 hours, depending on the size of your bird(s). Generally speaking, a little longer is better for this method, because you're looking for the bird to become so tender in the steam of the liquid it's braising in, that it just falls apart.
To test it for doneness, remove it from the oven and wiggle a drumstick- if the drumstick moves very freely, to the point of almost falling off the chicken when you move it, it's done!
6. To serve, simply plate the chicken and vegetables, then ladle the broth in the pan on top. You could certainly strain the juices and make gravy with them, but I like them as is.
To my mind, the best part of a chicken roasted this way is the thigh, which really benefits from being submerged in the chicken juices, so that's what I go for- cook's treat :)