Friday, August 17, 2012

Roast Chicken á la Julia

This is it! I have finally reached the top of the GourmetLive 50 Women Game-Changers list. And, as luck would have it, I finished this journey the same week our leading lady would have turned 100 years old: Julia Child.

As I mentioned in her birthday post, I always try to mark August 15th in some special way to honor Julia, who is third on my own Most Influential Women list, right after Mom and Mamaw. While those two wonderful women in my life taught me the basics of cooking and the importance of family meals, Julia helped open my eyes to a world of food far outside of my Midwest upbringing.

However, Julia’s influence reached far beyond my kitchen skills. She gave me courage when I decided to plunge head first into my life-long dream of writing at the age of 36 because she showed us all that it is never too late to find your life’s passion, and through following that passion, find success. I became a newspaper op-ed writer at 36. My first magazine article was published in the Boston Globe magazine when I was 37. I became a magazine editor when I was 38, and a full-time freelance writer a month before my 41st birthday.

But there’s more to Julia’s influence. The other evening, as I was reading the new Bob Spitz biography, Dearie, I realized she succeeded because she was true to herself. She was Julia Child, the very tall woman with the unique voice who lived life with gusto and enthusiasm no matter what anyone else thought of her. She was passionate about food, cooking and life in general. She didn’t try to be anyone else or fit into someone else’s mold. And by being true to who she was, she swept us all up with her energetic spirit to be fearless in life.

Thank you, Julia.

On her 100th birthday, I went to Topeka’s mid-week farmers market imagining what it was like for her to shop in those Paris markets so many years ago. I chatted with the sun-darkened farmer in his bib overalls about his peaches and tomatoes, and enjoyed a sample of fresh cantaloupe from a smiling Mennonite women in her light blue cotton dress with little white flowers, and the white mesh cap on her head.

For lunch, I enjoyed a lovely French triple-cream cheese and bread, along with some of the tomatoes and cantaloupe.  

For dinner, I roasted a chicken. Of course.

Roasting chicken used to make me very nervous. How long do you keep in it in the oven? (My Mamaw roasted turkeys for 30 minutes per pound!) Do you cover it with foil? (The women in my family always covered it tightly with foil, which meant no brown, crispy skin.)

Julia to the rescue! When she died in 2004, I was looking through a copy of Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom for recipes to make in her memory. Cooking just seemed like the right thing to do. I had settled on chocolate mousse to share with my neighbors, but I also wanted something to make for dinner. That’s when I found it! The answer to all of my roasting problems!

It’s a simple formula: 45 minutes plus 7 minutes per pound!  Start roasting at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, and then finish roasting at 350 degrees. Baste every 10 to 20 minutes.

This formula never fails! It produces a bird with crispy skin and moist flesh. The chicken I made for dinner was 5 pounds, so 45 minutes + 35 minutes (5 pounds x 7) = 80 minutes to the perfect roast chicken. You can check it with an instant-read meat thermometer to be sure (165-170 degrees), but trust me, this works! When I’ve second-guessed the formula and left the bird in longer, it has come out dry.

You can also find this formula in From Julia Child’s Kitchen. As for a roasting recipe, Julia has created many. I start with the one in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but I don’t follow it to the letter. Sometimes I truss the chicken, and sometimes I don’t. And I don’t bother with turning the bird from side to side in the first few minutes. I don’t layer blanched bacon over the breast, but chose instead to follow her directions of basting every 10 to 20 minutes. And I choose my seasonings to fit my mood that day—pretty much based on what I have in the pantry.

I think that would please Julia.

Be fearless!

Cheers to you, Julia! And thanks. You were the ultimate Game-Changer. 

Roast Chicken á la Julia

1 roasting chicken (4 to 7 pounds)
1 onion, cut in quarters
3 stalks celery, cut into three pieces
Seasoning of choice (I used 1 teaspoon dried thyme and a sprig of rosemary)
4 tablespoons of softened butter, divided
Salt and pepper
Potatoes (1 to 2 per person), washed and cut into quarters (halves for small potatoes)
4 carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Prepare the chicken by removing the sack of giblets and neck from the inside cavity and rinse with cold water. Dry the bird well with paper towels, inside and out. Sprinkle the inside cavity with salt, pepper, and seasonings. Place one of the onion quarters inside. Truss the bird, if you wish.

In the bottom of a roasting pan, place the onions and celery. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables. Rub the bird with 2 tablespoons of butter, and then sprinkle the outside with salt, pepper, and seasonings.

Place the roasting pan into the oven. In a small saucepan, melt the remaining butter. Bake the chicken for 15 minutes, and then turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees F for the remaining cooking time. (Roast the chicken for 45 minutes plus 7 minutes per pound.) Baste the chicken with the melted butter, and continue to baste every 10 to 20 minutes with the pan drippings.

For the last hour of roasting, place the carrots and potatoes in the bottom of the roasting pan and baste along with the bird.

Remove the chicken from the oven, cover with foil, and allow to stand for 20 minutes before carving. Meanwhile, remove the drippings from the pan to make into a gravy, or make the gravy in the roasting pan after removing the vegetables.


  1. What a perfect way to complete the series, Lynda. This recipe has always been a favorite of mine and your post today is a great reminder of what good food writing is all about. Thanks so much for your company on this year-long journey. Have a fabulous weekend. Blessings...Mary

  2. Good for you for completing the challenge Linda. As you said it was just kismet that it should come at such a timely end with the undisputed top 50 Woman Changer of them all.

  3. Hurray! And what a great way to finish the game changer series! You couldn't have timed it better! Or made a more basic 'Julia' dish ... although a chocolate mousse would have made the chocoholics in the crowd happy too!

    Bon appetit!