A simply roasted chicken may very well be my favorite dish. I mean ever. Well, maybe not more so than a perfectly done creme brulee, but it’s close! This was not always the case. In fact I’ve roasted more chickens in the past year than I had in my entire life before then, and even more than I ever remember my mother doing. I attribute my new-found love of roast chicken to one magnificent kitchen tool: the clay baker. Mine is the model known as a “Romertopf,” which is basically an unglazed terracotta boat with a lid. With this roasting-wonder-machine, a dish that at one time seemed both fussy and difficult (to me at least) became a complete no-brainer.

You begin by taking your chicken out of the fridge (it must already be thawed) and letting it come to room temperature, then filling both the top and bottom of the clay baker with water to soak. Let the baker soak while you gather your spices and chopping your vegetables. After 5-10 minutes (depending on how much you’ve used your baker, they tend to prep more quickly the more they’re used) you can dump the water out of the baker, and start loading it up! If you would like some sturdy root vegetables along the bottom, throw those in first. Spice them as you wish (I recommend thyme/oregano/parsley/salt/pepper…but then again I always do). Then, place your chicken on top of the vegetables. This will work just as well if you only want to roast the chicken without any vegetables inside the baker with it, either way is fine. Now, if you’d like to get a little fancy, you can run your finger underneath the breast skin to separate it from the meat. Throw about half of your spice mix under the skin and spread it around, then throw the remaining half on top of the skin and in the cavity if you’d like. Other accents might include garlic cloves directly under the skin (a wonderful touch), or a lemon scored fairly deeply placed in the bird’s cavity. Now, simply put the lid on top (make sure you’ve dumped out the water!) and pop the whole thing in the oven.

I did not miss a step in there, in case you were wondering…you don’t preheat the oven! I don’t know why exactly, but this is one of my favorite parts. The clay baker needs to come up to the full temperature, usually 400 degrees for my chicken, slowly so as not to break in the baker.

Roast for an hour and twenty minutes or so, depending on the size of your bird, then take the lid off and bake for another 10 minutes to crisp the skin. You will get a good amount of stock if you roast the chicken by itself, at least 1 cup if not closer to 2 for a large chicken. The stock is like liquid gold, so don’t throw it out! It adds wonderful depth of flavor to stews, soups, mashed cauliflower, or it can be used to make a perfect gravy.  Even if you don’t want to use the fat that rises to the top, leave it in the jar until you plan to use the stock because it creates a protective layer for the gel making it last longer in the fridge.  Good old fat, it just keeps on giving!

Once the chicken cools enough to touch it, put it on a serving tray and have at it! The meat is very succulent, because it’s been self-basting in the oven for an hour and a half. Even the breast meat is juicy and flavorful thanks to the spices under the skin. Adam and I almost always eat this meal with our hands, because it’s more fun that way. I’ll eat one leg and thigh, he will eat the other plus a wing and some breast meat, and the rest of the chicken will be taken off the bone and cut up for use in salads or an array of other meals.

I can’t say enough how much I love this kitchen tool, it’s so easy to throw a chicken inside and then take care of any other tasks you need to accomplish for an hour and a half while it cooks. And because the design of the baker keeps the moisture inside, your chicken will turn out perfect every time with minimal effort. If you have a wedding coming up soon and I’m invited, you’ll know what you’re getting!

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