A classic roast chicken is certainly one of the easier entrees to master. Salt and pepper, a little fat rubbed into the skin and a lemon in the cavity can do the trick. If you’re a self-sufficient omnivore, an iteration or two ought to be in your repertoire. But even cooks who take pride in their own recipes have come to rely on a trussed, store-bought option that often costs less than the price of raw poultry.
“Of course mine is best. When you don’t have time to prepare it yourself, though, rotisserie chicken makes a decent meal,” says Audrey Graziano. The 34-year-old Alexandria wife and mother of two has been buying supermarket-prepared chickens for about a decade. Leftovers go into chicken noodle soup, she says, and her mother-in-law may claim the bones for stock.
Getting two or three family meals out of an inexpensive 21
2-pound bird offsets the big advantage a home-cooked chicken has over its commercial cousins. That would be the crisped, golden brown skin — a source of guilty pleasure that most of the time provides the majority of flavor. Retail containers that allow for successful rotisserie chicken transport have gotten greener and more technically advanced over the years, but they sure do a number on the chicken’s exterior, which gets clingy or splits in the time it takes to transfer a batch from store oven to heated store shelf.
So what have we learned in a generation of rotisserie chicken consumption?
■It’s tough to find a bird that can survive the journey of heated display shelf and leftover usage unless it has been treated with some kind of water or salt solution.
■There are more flavors to choose from: BBQ, lemon-pepper, Italian and roasted garlic among them.
■Paying several dollars extra does not guarantee quality.
■If yield is important, use your own scale to weigh the chicken. In comparing rotisserie chickens from 14 Washington area supermarkets, Food section staffers found more than one discrepancy between printed and actual weights.
■Close readers of ingredient labels might find that yeast extract, oleoresin, sodium tripolyphosphate and the bewildering “natural flavorings” have been deployed. Most of those go toward flavoring and browning the chicken, says Pittsburgh food scientist and author Robert L. Wolke.