Cooking a whole chicken is economical, easy, and delicious. Once you decide to give up conventional, factory-farmed meat (that’s oftentimes laced with antibiotics and synthetic hormones) and switch to the humanely-raised, organic variety instead, it’s no secret that the price goes up. To offset this increase in cost you can do two things – select cuts of meat that are less expensive per pound (like a whole chicken) and/or eat less meat all together. For all those who have never cooked a whole chicken before…have no fear because it’s easy to do! And this even applies to people like me who don’t like to actually handle or touch whole, raw chickens. I normally cook whole chickens in my slow cooker, but have recently become fond of roasting chicken as well (details below).
How to Safely Defrost Meat
Now before you get started, it’s important to make sure you aren’t trying to cook a chicken that’s currently sitting in your freezer. Easier said than done? When I used to buy standard grocery store chicken this was never an issue, but now that I shop at the farmers’ market I’ve found that almost all of the local meat is sold frozen. And just the other day I was supposed to be roasting a chicken that was – yes – still frozen, which prompted me to do some research.
This is what I learned about defrosting meat:
- The ideal way to defrost meat is in the fridge overnight. If you are defrosting a whole chicken or large turkey it could take 2 (or sometimes 3) nights to fully defrost.
- If you forget to defrost overnight the next best method is to defrost meat (sealed in a plastic bag) in cold water. The USDA website recommends changing the water every 30 minutes and the defrosting times are as follows: “Small packages of meat, poultry or seafood — about a pound — may thaw in an hour or less. A 3-to 4-pound package may take 2 to 3 hours. For whole turkeys, estimate about 30 minutes per pound.” After you use the cold water method for defrosting it is best to cook the meat right away – absolutely do not refreeze or refrigerate the raw meat for another day!
I admit that for years I used to just throw a frozen pack of meat on the counter for a few hours if I needed it in time for dinner. We obviously lived to tell about it with no problems, but what I’ve learned is that using cold water to defrost meat is not only safer but actually MUCH faster than just leaving it on the counter to fend for itself. The USDA says “Perishable foods should never be thawed on the counter, or in hot water and must not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.” Oops…better late than never I guess!
Since life just gets in the way sometimes, here are some more tips that might come in handy when you don’t exactly remember to follow the rules above:
- If you accidentally defrost your meat in warm water (as I also did recently) – the USDA does not consider this to be a “safe” method – but if you want to roll the dice (which apparently my facebook community does a lot with no problems) be sure to cook the meat right away and cook it thoroughly.
- Two hours is the key number – perishable foods should “not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.” I use this guideline when putting away leftovers and groceries as well. The USDA specifically advises to not leave perishable foods in the “Danger Zone” temperature range for more than 2 hours. The “Danger Zone” is between 40 and 140 °F (i.e. anything warmer than your fridge, but not warm enough to cook) and is when bacteria begins to multiply. Just say “no” to the multiplying bacteria (well, “bad” bacteria that is).
- When all else fails the USDA website says, “It is safe to cook foods from the frozen state. The cooking will take approximately 50% longer than the recommended time for fully thawed or fresh meat and poultry.” Good to know!
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- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (with lemon peel reserved)
- ¼ cup olive oil + extra for roasting rack
- ½ teaspoon salt
- pepper, to taste
- 1 whole chicken, 3 to 4 lbs in size
- Special equipment needed: Baking sheet or roasting pan fitted with a roasting rack (or a cooling rack will do), basting brush, and a basic (yet good-quality) meat thermometer
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place the roasting rack (or cooling rack) on a baking sheet or roasting pan and brush the rack with oil. Set aside.
- In a small bowl mix together the rosemary, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Remove any giblets or bag of "parts" that may be stored inside the chicken. Reserve for another use (like stock or gravy) or discard.
- Place the chicken on the prepared rack with the breast side down. Brush a little less than half of the oil mixture on the top and sides of the chicken. Turn the chicken over so the breast side is now up. Pour a little bit of the olive oil mixture inside the cavity and brush the remaining oil on the top and sides. Stick the reserved lemon peel inside the cavity (as much of it as you can fit).
- Put the chicken in the oven and then use a measuring cup (or small bowl) with a pour spout to add 2 to 3 cups of water into the bottom of the roasting pan or baking sheet. Roast the chicken for 40 to 50 minutes or until the thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 170 degrees F (don't leave it inserted while baking). Check on it a couple times while cooking and add more water to the bottom of the pan if necessary.
- Let the chicken cool before carving. Serve "as is" or dice it, shred it, or chop it so you can add it to another dish!
- And don't forget to make overnight chicken stock in your slow cooker with the bones!