Gourmet Galley: Oh-so-tasty baked chicken is easy, enjoyable

Sometimes we have to be reminded how easy and enjoyable it is to bake a chicken, that oh-so-tasty bird that’s great eaten as the main course but also blends wonderfully with other foods.

But just how do you make the perfect baked chicken, the one that’s well seasoned with a nice crispy skin?

First off, there are no hard-and-fast rules, but many will argue with that.

Some cooks go for high heat and fast roasting; others think the only way is low heat and slow roasting. Some truss (cross and tie the legs together) and some say definitely don’t truss.

Some cooks insist on basting; others never look at the chicken until the end of cooking time.

Some use a V-rack, cake-type flat rack, beer can, vertical roaster or no rack at all.

Don’t be confused. This just proves it’s hard to make a mistake in baking a whole chicken. The only rule is baking until the chicken reaches a safe-for-eating internal temperature of 165-170 degrees in the meaty part of the thigh. At that temperature, the meat is safely cooked but still moist.

Y ou may find some slightly pink areas but if it has reached that temperature, it is safe to eat. Instant-read meat thermometers are inexpensive and handy; otherwise, you have to guess if the meat is tender when pierced and if the juices run clear.

Purchasing a whole chicken is definitely more frugal then buying separate parts. Use leftover cooked chicken for sandwiches, pizza, pasta or in casseroles.

The following recipe with variations offers basic ideas for seasoning a whole chicken for baking. The variations use different herbs tucked under the skin to impart a slightly different flavor. The size of the chicken (fryer or roaster) will determine the length of cooking time.

Build added flavors onto salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Dress the inside (under the skin) and then finish with a flavored butter plus the usual topping of salt and peppers.

Try getting creative with herbs, fruit and vegetables you have on hand. To eliminate some spattering, place chicken on a small bed of onion slices, celery or mix of both.

Here is a basic roasting timetable:

High-heat roasting (producing crispy, dark skin) — Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and roast for 20 minutes per pound.

Regular baking — Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes per pound plus an additional 15 minutes.

Corinne Cook is a columnist for The Advocate. Reach her at food@theadvocate.com.