Anything that you can cook in a regular oven, can be cooked in a wood-fired oven, often with superior results due to the flavor imparted by the wood smoke and the addition of moisture introduced to the oven chamber coming from the wood as it burns. Pizza tends to be the go-to food people often associate with wood-fired ovens—probably why these ovens are referred to as “pizza ovens.” However, I’ve only cooked two pizzas in my backyard oven and am more inclined to cook meat and vegetables in it. One of our family favorites is a whole chicken with vegetables roasted in the oven. The following recipe may be used in an outdoor wood-fired oven or indoor kitchen oven.
An Annotated Recipe for Roast Chicken
Prepare a moderate fire in your wood-fired oven to bring the temperature up to around 350-400°F—or preheat your indoor oven.
- 1 whole free-range, organic chicken [Yes, the difference is significant! The texture of a humanely-raised bird is much firmer than that of a mushy “corporate” bird that has little flavor by comparison.]
- 1 onion
- 2 carrots
- 2 stalks celery
- 1 bulb garlic
- 1 tomato [Find the ripest tomato you can]
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1/2 dozen parsley stalks [Don’t stint—you can’t use too much parsley]
- salt and pepper
- 4 T. white flour
Roughly chop the all of the vegetables and line the bottom of a roasting pan. [No need to peel—just rinse and chop. I usually cut the onion into three large disks, the carrots into a couple of chunks, and divide the garlic bulb into cloves and distributing it all evenly in the roasting pan. The vegetable base will keep the chicken from sticking to the pan and later add flavor to a quick stock for making gravy or jus.]
Scatter the bay leaves, thyme, and parsley stalks on top of the mirepoix. [That’s the correct term for the above vegetable mix]. Once the pan is properly bedded with vegetables set it aside and deal with your bird.
If you are lucky enough to have the chicken’s innards [gizzard, heart, liver] , remove them, rinse with cold water and mix them in with your mirepoix of veggies. [More flavor for the gravy.] Then rinse the whole chicken in cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Trim off the tiny winglet points from each wing and add them to the vegetable mix as well. Trim any excess fat and discard. Season the chicken inside and out with salt and pepper and position on top of the vegetables.
The chicken should take about one to one and a half hours to roast in a cooling wood-fired oven. [The 350-400°F starting temperature will cool over the course of roasting without the addition of more wood - that's why the cooking time is longer.]Cover roasting pan with a lid or foil for the first hour and remove for the final hour of cooking. Cook until juices run clear. Once done, remove bird from the pan to a platter and tent with foil to keep warm while you prepare the gravy.
Strain juices from the roasting pan into a small saucepan. Skim excess fat from the top of the liquid, season to taste, and bring to a boil on an indoor stovetop or outdoor hotplate. In a small bowl whisk together flour and enough cold water to form a mixture the consistency of heavy cream. Slowly add the flour/water slurry to the boiling vegetable/chicken stock stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Reduce heat and simmer until gravy thickens.
Carve bird and serve with gravy and optional seasonal roasted vegetables. YUM!
Bonus: Roast vegetables in a separate pan alongside your bird for a tasty side. Simply peel and cut fresh carrots, cauliflower, leeks, potatoes, onion, or other seasonal vegetable into uniform pieces. Dress the cut vegetables with butter, olive oil, or both, and season with salt and pepper. Place pan in the oven and roast for 30 to 45 minutes along side the chicken as it finishes.