Once upon a time, before the days of factory farming and $5 rotisserie birds from Costco, chicken was considered a special meal. After years of treating this ubiquitous meat as a boring, must-offer dish, chefs now exalt the whole roasted chicken—buying special breeds and bathing the birds with luxe ingredients, like foie gras. Even without the expensive embellishments, a lovingly raised, thoughtfully cooked chicken is truly one of the best tasting things you can ever eat.
This Valentine’s Day (or any time you want to celebrate something), I’d like to propose you roast one of these birds. It’s true: To buy a best-quality pastured bird that was free to roam and scratch and eat a natural diet of bugs and more is expensive. But the $20 you’ll spend on one of these birds will seem like a deal compared to the price of other Valentine’s Day favorites, including rack of lamb, steak, and lobster. Not only will you likely have leftovers (handy when Valentine’s Day is mid-week), but there’s something so cozy about sharing a single bird and eating it partially with your hands. And did I mention? Roast chicken pairs beautifully with Champagne. And it’s one of the more sustainable meats you can eat.
One of my favorite ways to roast a bird involves salting it at least 24 hours in advance to season the meat down to the bone and to create golden, potato-chip-crisp skin. I rarely think far enough ahead to do this, and well, now that it’s Valentine’s Day, we don’t have enough time.
If I don’t salt the bird ahead, I’ve now discovered my second favorite method, and really, it rivals the first. While paging through Mindy Fox’s excellent book, The Perfectly Roasted Chicken, I found her Roast Chicken with Basil, Scallion, Lemon Butter, and Potatoes. In this recipe, she employs a few simple techniques to take a classic butter-roasted bird with potatoes to the next level. First, she adds lots of herbs, garlic, and scallions to the butter; it’s more than you think you should add. Second, she preheats the pan, so the potatoes and chicken start cooking right away. Third, she flips the chicken twice during roasting to help the bird cook evenly and to keep the breast juicy. Finally, she squeezes lemons over the chicken during the last 20 minutes of roasting, which helps brown the skin and add a fresh, lemony tang to the juices. The result is the roast chicken of my fantasies, complete with a luscious pan sauce and potatoes that make me feel bad for vegetarians. (Forget bacon. Potatoes coated in chicken drippings would be my “cheat” if I ever decided to give up meat.)
Happy Valentine’s Day!