Summer in Durham is a mixed blessing. People will complain about the heat or the humidity, but the honest truth is that you stop noticing it after awhile: every day bears a strong resemblance to the one that came before. Human beings, adaptable creatures that they are, eventually acclimate, and it is for this reason that I have developed a wide variety of techniques to minimize my exposure to the sun. In terms of food, the intense heat has its benefits: it pushes one away from heavier and more intricate preparations in favor of light and fresh. The downside is that, for four or five months, I must set aside that most virtuous of cycles: roast chicken to stock to soup and stew.
Whole roast chicken is one of those recipes that seemed daunting on first attempt and, truth be told, it took several tries to settle into a definitive method.* Roast chicken is cheaper than buying parts (it's significantly cheaper to part your own chicken if you don't want a whole one), the leftovers are built in, and the possibilities for side dishes are quite extensive. A typical assortment:
1. w/ pan-roasted potatoes, onion gravy and comeback sauce. The gravy has improved since I have started cutting out the flap of fat usually left in the cavity of the bird and adding it to the pan: it renders down to a tiny little piece of fat that tastes amazing. The comeback sauce-gravy combination is also a winner.
2. w/ sautéed mushrooms and a good crunchy vegetable. The idea, here as ever, is that if there are liquids on a plate together, they should all be complementary. The mushrooms will deepen the richness of the chicken, and the vegetable will give a little contrast.
3. cold, with Thai sweet chili sauce and a drop of siracha on any remaining potatoes. The rich-and-savory thing gets boring after awhile, and there's nothing quite like going in the entirely opposite direction.
4. w/ romaine, dressing, and whatever vegetables are decent for the wonderful caesar salad sandwich.
*I opt for a modified Jacques Pepin preparation: 15 minutes a pound +15 minutes (ie 90 minutes for a 5lb bird), time divided into thirds. Roast on its side for the first third, rotate to the other side for the next third, on its back for the final third. It shortens the cooking time, helps to bring the legs and thighs along as quickly as the breast meat, and keep cooking times consistent, a problem I always had with other methods. Salt and pepper all over the body, and in the cavity.
The other change: butter instead of olive oil. If you're using fewer than 4 tbs on a 5lb chicken, you are doing it wrong.
I think of this preparation as neither especially healthy nor unhealthy. The butter doesn't make it notably worse--most of that butter ends up in the gravy--but the key is portion control. A 2.5-3.25lb chicken is better for taste, but the very strong temptation is to eat the entire thing when cooking for two. When one goes into roasting a chicken with the idea of leftovers, it changes the approach. A slice or two of the breast and perhaps a drumstick will be plenty.