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Italian Home Cooking
by Julia Della Croce
My first lesson in procuring chicken took place as a girl on a trip to the Cagliari market with my aunt Anna. She went from stall to stall, asking the meat purveyors if their chicken was "machine-made" or not. If it wasn't raised in a barnyard, pecking and scratching for grubs and grasses, she wouldn't have any part of it. Here was one of her methods for roasting those succulent free-range chickens, which is easily done in a home oven or outdoors on a spit.
• 4½ pound free-range roasting hen, at room temperature
• 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, ground
• handful of fresh thyme, twigs and leaves
• large pinch of cayenne pepper
• 12 cloves garlic, smashed
• sea salt
• handful of fresh sage, twigs and leaves
• handful of fresh rosemary, twigs and leaves
• 2 cups chicken broth
• 1/3 cup good-quality dry white wine
1. Preheat an oven to 425°F. Remove excess fat from the chicken. Wash it inside and out under cold running water and use strong paper towels to pat it thoroughly dry.
2. In a small bowl, mix the fennel, thyme, and cayenne pepper. Rub the inside of the cavity with one garlic clove and half the spice mixture. Sprinkle with salt. Place all the garlic and most of the herbs inside, reserving some for garnish. Rub the outside of the bird with the remaining spice mixture, loosely tie the legs together, and place breast side up in a roasting pan. Pour the broth to reach 1/4 inch up the sides.
3. Roast for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 400°F, then turn the bird breast side down for another 30 minutes. Baste every 15 minutes with pan juices, adding more broth as it evaporates. Turn breast side up and roast until done, another 20 minutes, or until an instant-read meat thermometer reads 165°F. Transfer to a carving board and cover loosely with foil. Let rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving.
4. To make the gravy, pour the pan juices through a fine mesh strainer. Transfer it to a fat separator and set aside. Warm the roasting pan over over medium heat. Add the wine and use a wooden spoon to dislodge any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Simmer for 2 minutes. Strain the liquid into the fat separator as well.
5. Carve the bird and arrange nicely on a warm platter. Discard the herbs from the cavity. Add juices that have collected during carving to the gravy you have made. Garnish with the reserved fresh herbs and serve at once.
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