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Chicken Buying

"Fresh chickens" may legally be held up to six weeks before sale in a temperature-controlled vat of water at a temperature that freezes the liquid but not the meat cells. This is why they may seem icy, and if mishandled, they do freeze. Frozen chickens can have good quality if they are frozen professionally and thawed gently and easily for 24 hours in the refrigerator before cooking.
Choose 4 to 4 1/2 pound chickens for roasting. The 2 1/2 to 3 pound chickens are great for baking or splitting in half, but they dry out during roasting. All the chickens being roasted should be very close in size (within about $.20 of the same price).
Plump is better. If chickens are the same weight, pick the broadest and curviest ones.
For whole chickens or chicken parts, select bags which are NOT puffed out- the puffing indicates the presence of some bacteria in the chicken.
Chicken juices can be very contaminated, use extra bags to wrap raw chicken while refrigerating. A wiping solution of 2 tablespoons regular bleach in a quart of water is a good cleanup solution for counters, knives and cutting boards.
Keep them cold: Buy them last, put them in an ice chest for the ride home. Once home, get them into the refrigerator fast.

Chicken Roasting

Check the ingredients list below. For the roast chicken melee, take out the giant roasting pan you use for turkeys, oil or Pam it.

Prep chickens carefully for cooking: keep raw chicken juices in the sink, not all over the counter. Open the bag, reach into the chicken and remove all the loose bits, rinse them and throw into a bowl. Trim the fat around the vent (tail end) with kitchen scissors, throw it into the bowl. Rinse each chicken well inside and out, set on end on a cookie sheet to drain.

Season well before roasting. Stuff the chickens: Each cavity gets 3-4 twigs of fresh rosemary, 1/6 each bunch of cilantro and parsley, 1/2 a peeled onion, a small peeled carrot. Maybe a chunked up lemon with the peel, or a handful of celery leaves. Then sprinkle and rub the selected seasoning heavily all over the chicken. This might be Italian seasoning, green or red zahtar, garam marsala, paprika; lots of choices.

Chunk up the celery including the leaves and any leftover parsley or cilantro, and put on the bottom of the roasting pan. Layer the rinsed necks, fat, etc. you saved on top of the celery- this will flavor the soup later. Arrange the chickens standing up on their neck ends with their breasts together and their legs sticking up in the air. All of them will fit snugly into a big rectangular turkey roasting pan. Two will fit into a 4 quart glass roaster.

Roasted upside down, the dark meat gets done, the white meat stays juicy and tender. These will roast in about 75 minutes at 375 to 400 degrees, a little less if you are only cooking 1 or two. Carefully remove the pan from the oven, it is heavy, very hot and FULL of juices. SAVE the roasting pan and ALL the drippings and scraps- they are essential for the wonderful stock.

Remove chickens from the pan to the waiting platter by putting a large fork into the stuffing and a big spoon outside. Let stand 10-20 minutes before slicing. SAVE any juices, bones, skin that collect while serving and put them back into the roasting pan for the stock.

I always time the chickens so they are done just in time for dinner, enjoy one. By the time we finish, the others are cool enough to be divided up and packaged, and the soup made.

Roast Chicken Melee
with fabulous roast chicken stock

24 servings

1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch parsley, flat Italian preferred
lots of fresh rosemary stalks- 3 or 4 per chicken
1 large bunch celery with leaves
3 large or 6 small scrubbed carrots
3 large or 6 small onions (optional)
1/2 cup garam masala, mild curry powder, zahtar or Greek or Italian seasoning to coat the chicken
6 3 1/2-4 1/2 pound fryers (large fryers)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Stuff and assemble upside down as described above. These will roast in about 70 minutes, I always time them so they are done just in time for dinner, enjoy one. By the time we finish, the others are cool enough to be divided up and packaged, and the soup made.

Put a rice pudding, bread pudding or a peach cobbler on the other rack of the oven and you will have a fine dinner for 25 in a short time!

Storing the Roasted Chickens

Save all the bones, stuffing, skin, and shreds and put them back in the roasting pan for the stock. If you are not making in the next day, put all this in a freezer bag and freeze it.

Each pound of raw chicken makes about 3/4 cup of cooked meat; a 4 pound chicken makes about 3 cups.

Since you are not cutting at the table, use your good kitchen scissors and your clean hands to do most of the work. Place the chicken breast side down on a plate, so the juices will be caught and put in the roasting pan. Remove the backbone and thigh bones, the neck and shoulder blades. Break the two leg quarters away, skin them, then remove the meat from the thigh and legs, and put the bones and cartilage in the roasting pan.

Break the wings away, put the skin, bones and whole end joint in the roasting pan.

Slice off as much of the white meat as you want to store slices, put aside. Then work the rest of the meat off the rib bones, store it, and put the remaining whole carcass in the roasting pan.

Fabulous Roast Chicken Stock

Somehow, roasting the chickens before you make the soup lifts the stock to a whole different level.

Turn all the scraps, bones, skin, onions and stuffing, etc., into the roasting pan and add any leftover parsley, vegetable scraps, extra onions, celery, etc. No garlic, though; the flavor doesn't keep well in the stock. Add a couple of teaspoons of turmeric or mild curry powder.

Cover, bake 70 minutes at 400 degrees or microwave 40 minutes (only if you used a glass or microwave safe pan!). The pan will be pretty heavy. Open carefully,, it will be full of steam. Ladle or drain the first stock into a large storage container, stir all the bones and scraps in the pan and mash them down. Add water just to cover, repeat the cooking uncovered this time, then drain and strain the liquid into the storage container and discard all the solids.

Cover the container and chill overnight, You will have a golden, jellied broth with a layer of fat which you can easily remove when you are ready to use it. If you will leave the fat layer on and store in a cold part of your refrigerator, it will keep 4-5 days. Or remove the fat, transfer the stock to ziplock freezer bags in amounts you will use, and freeze flat until you need them.