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Family Secrets

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The best of the recipes, techniques, and methods practiced by our large extended Italian-American family - with emphasis on the legacy handed down to us by the original immigrants.

This is a cookbook-in-process project. If you try any of these recipes please let us know how they turn out, whether or not you had any difficulties, and any clarifying improvements you might recommend to make them foolproof. We will of course acknowledge genuine "test-kitchen" assistance.

Family Secrets #20

Perfect Roast Chicken

By CeCe Dove, La Lama Mountain Ovens

We've lived in big cities, small towns, suburban tracts, and now in a farmhouse on a mountain. It really doesn't seem to matter where we are when the first frosty autumn days arrive because the same food memory always surfaces in my brain. I remember shivering with cold, walking into a warm kitchen and the aromas that permeated the house. The smells of chicken roasting, with scents of lemon and rosemary, will forever be part of my emotional makeup. They simply make me feel good. They speak of autumn evenings, family dinners, good conversation, a warm and safe haven from the cold.

Our mother was oblivious to the beautiful memories she was building for her children. She only knew that she had a family of four very hungry children and a weary husband to feed. Her mission was to feed them well and to do it economically. Fortunately for all of us, chicken remains one of the great ways to do that even today. You won't find a better dollar value in the meat counter than a whole chicken. And a perfectly roasted, golden brown, crispy skinned bird served with perfect mashed potatoes and gravy and green salad is a dinner to build a memory.

People have been roasting chickens forever. My mother learned her mother's method and I've learned my mother's way. However, over the years there have been numerous methods put forth as the right way to roast a chicken. They include covered versus uncovered, basting or not, adding liquid or not, turning the bird or not. Each year seems to bring yet another "perfect method". After roasting hundreds of birds I have found that the simplest way possible results in the best bird ever. Once it is in the oven, the most important thing you do is to leave it undisturbed. No basting, turning, or even peeking allowed. Now the cook has ample time to finish the menu in a relaxed manner, which makes this meal even more attractive. You could further simplify the cooking process by serving roasted potatoes instead of mashed. They could be done in the same oven as the chicken, putting them in about one hour before the chicken is done.

Grandma Anna Buzzelli nee Casacchia
(1873-1917) - Pictures circa 1898
Grandpa Nicola Buzzelli (1873-1914)
Soaking the chicken is an optional step. I prefer to do this because I believe it results in a juicier, more tender bird. If you choose to include this step, dissolve one teaspoon salt per quart of ice cold water in a non-reactive bowl or pot large enough to hold the chicken comfortably. Immerse the chicken from one hour up to 12 hours. Drain well, pat dry inside and out, and continue with the recipe.


Perfect Roast Chicken

Serves four

  • 1 whole chicken, approximately 4 lbs.
  • 1 lemon
  • 3 or 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary*
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Tuck wings under back. Pull out any excess fat from the body cavity. Freeze the neck bone, heart, and gizzard for stock. Soak the chicken if you wish or rinse under cold water and pat dry inside and out.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Wash the lemon and dry. Poke it with a fork to break the skin about 10 times. Wash the herbs and dry. Place lemon and herbs in body cavity. Rub the entire outside of the bird with a small amount of olive oil, salt and pepper it generously inside and out. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine and place in a roasting pan with a rack. Place in oven, uncovered, and roast undisturbed for one and one-half hours. Drain the liquid from the cavity into the bottom of the roast pan and continue roasting until thoroughly cooked, approximately an additional 15-20 minutes. Test for doneness by making a cut between the thigh and body and pressing lightly. The juice should run clear, not pink tinged.

Remove from oven and let rest 5 minutes before carving.

*If you are not fond of rosemary you may substitute any number of fresh herbs such as sage or tarragon. Whatever you use will permeate the chicken meat along with the lemon.

Altitude Adjustment: None necessary.

1998-2006 CDove - Attributed Copies Permitted for Small Quantity Non-Commercial Use Only.
Commercial and Quantity Reproduction Requires Written Permission
La Lama Mountain Ovens, 2055 Lama Mtn., HC81 Box 26, Questa, NM 87556, Tel: 575-586-2286

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