The first time I roasted a whole chicken, it felt like I was diffusing a bomb. I cannot completely relate to the person I was before I knew how to really cook. Working with food and becoming a chef requires the thoughtful exercising of repetitive activities. We make mayonnaise over an over, along the way learning subtleties and nuance of emulsification. We learn how to wash and dry salad greens, ever striving to be more gentle and cleaner. I have now butchered and roasted (and fried) more chickens than I could ever count. I've finished endless bowls of pasta with a ladle of pasta water and a drizzle of olive oil or a pat of butter. I've seared countless burgers over charcoal, and hand-stretched pizza dough in my dreams. While all of this has become for the most part second nature, I am still learning and tweaking and hopefully improving.
So back to that first chicken. I really could not conceive how to get from raw whole chicken to Martha Stewart golden crispy bird. After much research, I set up a cheesecloth draped over the chicken. I procured a paintbrush and swiped a mop of white wine and butter at regular intervals during a roasting process that involved flipping the chicken and rotating it and changing the temperature of the oven, and lord knows what else. By the time I was done, the chicken skin was still soggy, the meat was raw where the thigh meets the backbone and I had under seasoned the poor bird to a degree that flavor was not something to associate with this chicken. I clearly had overthought this chicken.
It turns out roasting a chicken is ridiculously simple. A handful of salt, several turns of pepper, a hot oven, a great quality chicken (preferably raised by someone you know), a nose, a touch, and a good thermometer are all you really need. Yes, you can do more: herbs or citrus in the cavity; butter and garlic under the skin; the possibilities are endless. But for me, simple is almost always where I go these days.
Simplicity is the benchmark. As cooks and learners, our instincts can easily veer towards complexity: a dash of this, or a sprig of that, an espuma here, or an emulsified essence there. Experience has taught me that if less can work, if less produces cleaner, more straightforward food, then less is where I go.