Instead of roasting a turkey, how about a whole roast chicken for a holiday meal on a boat?

Whole Roast Chicken Recipe

Wanting to roast a turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas?  In many boat galleys, the oven is just too small for a whole turkey.  And if you do have a large enough oven, you may not be able to find a turkey in foreign countries if you’re not in a large city.  Turkey breasts can be even harder to find outside the US.  So why not roast a chicken?

The taste is similar, the bird looks like a miniature turkey on the table and you can carve it in the same fashion.  While roasting, the chicken fills the boat with a wonderful aroma — again, similar to turkey.  And — best of all — whole chickens fit in most galley ovens and they can be found far more easily than turkeys.  Roasting one is simple, too!

There are all sorts of “options” for roasting a chicken — high heat or low heat, using a foil tent or nothing, stuffing or not, trussed or not, roasting on a rack or just in the pan — and they all can produce great results.  The problem with some of the recipes is that they just don’t work well in a boat oven that may have hot spots, may not be able to reach temperatures over 400, and so on.

This recipe opts for the lower temperature — first, boat ovens usually don’t have many problems cooking at 350, and hot spots are less noticeable at lower temperatures.  It’s also flexible in the size of the bird and the seasonings used — sometimes, you have to take what you can get!  Don’t worry, it will still be delicious.

In the following recipe, I’m assuming that you are buying a cleaned and dressed bird.  If you buy one live, my experience is that whoever is selling it knows how to prepare it for cooking and will do it for a small sum (or negotiate it in the price of the bird).

If you want dressing, I recommend cooking it separately.  If the bird is stuffed, there’s a little more chance of food poisoning.  And while food poisoning is never any fun, it’s even more dangerous if you’re away from good medical facilities.

Plan on 3/4 to 1 pound of whole chicken per person — a 5 pound bird is a good size for 6 people. Whole chickens range in size from about three pounds (which will look small) to about 8 pounds.

It’s helpful to know how big the chicken is for timing how long it will take to cook it.  If it’s not marked, you can weigh it with a fish scale (if you have one) or compare it to the weight of a 5-pound sack of flour or sugar.  Another good comparison is a half gallon of water — it weighs 4 pounds.  If you don’t know, don’t worry — just check it for doneness a little sooner!

And you don’t have to wait for a holiday — roast chicken is good anytime you want a special meal!

Whole Roast Chicken Recipe

1 whole chicken

2 to 4 tablespoons butter OR margarine OR canola oil OR vegetable oil

salt and pepper

1 teaspoon poultry seasoning OR 3/4 teaspoon ground dried sage (or 3 teaspoons fresh chopped) plus 1/4 teaspoon ground dried thyme (or 1 teaspoon fresh chopped)

OPTIONAL:  celery salt or 6″ piece of celery, onion powder or wedge of onion.  Some people like to add garlic powder or clove of garlic, although I don’t — it can easily overpower the other seasonings.

Preheat the oven to 350 while you’re preparing the bird.

Begin by checking if there is anything in the cavity of the chicken — often there are packets with the liver or a gravy mix, or the neck might be stuffed in there.  If you find anything, remove it.

Rinse out the cavity and the outside of the bird.  Reach inside the cavity and pull out any loose bits you find.  Most of them will be along the backbone (the very rough bone — the breast bone is smooth opposite it).  Usually, you’ll have to pull away the “lights”  (lungs) — they look like little tiny pieces of liver.  Even in the US, the lights are usually left in.  It won’t hurt you to leave them or eat them, but you’ll notice a different taste.  I’ll also usually find some loose bits of fat and maybe even some bone fragments.

Most likely, you’ll have to rinse out the cavity a couple of times before the water comes out reasonably clear (a little rosy tint is to be expected).  Pat the chicken dry — while I use bar rags for most things, this is one time I use paper towels!

Rub the outside of the chicken all over with the butter.  If possible, try to slip some of it under the skin on the breast (do this gently so you don’t tear the skin).  Put the remaining butter in the cavity or rub the cavity with oil.

Place celery, onion and/or garlic in the cavity if they are being used. Salt and pepper the inside of the cavity, too — even if you are limiting your sodium intake, try to use at least a little salt.  Without it, the chicken just won’t have any flavor.

If you have a roasting pan with a rack, use the rack.  This will do two things:  virtually eliminate problems with hot spots as the chicken won’t be sitting on the pan, and all the skin will be crispy, not just that on the top.  Otherwise, just use any baking pan that the chicken will fit into.

Place the chicken into the pan, breast side up (if in doubt, put your hand in the cavity — the rough backbone should be down and the smooth breast bone up).  I prefer NOT to tuck wings under the body or tie the drumsticks together — while tucking and tying makes a tidy little package, it also makes it harder to have the drumsticks done before the breast meat is overly dry.  Plus the drumsticks will have more crispy skin if they’re not tight against the body.

Salt and pepper the outside of the chicken, then sprinkle the poultry seasoning over it (you can rub it in a little if you like).  Don’t put foil over it, or water in the pan or anything.

Put the bird in the oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes per pound.  Unless the bird is really scrawny and lacking in fat, you don’t need to baste it.  If you decide you should baste it, brush butter over the top every 30 minutes.

The best test for doneness is an instant-read meat thermometer, inserted into the thickest part of the thigh but NOT touching bone.  It should read 165 degrees.

If you don’t have a meat thermometer, use all three of these tests:  (1) the skin should be a dark golden color; (2) if you pierce the thigh with a fork, the juices should run clean without a rosy tint; and (3) if you can grasp the drumstick (it may be too hot), the socket should feel loose when you try to wiggle it.

Remove the pan from the oven and put the chicken on the serving dish (one advantage of a chicken over a turkey is that a chicken will usually fit on a dinner plate).  Put a piece of foil over the top to keep it warm, and let it sit about 20 minutes while you prepare the gravy and other side dishes.  This “sit time” will make it much easier to carve as well as making the meat juicier.

Instead of roasting a turkey, how about a whole roast chicken for a holiday meal from a tiny kitchen? In the photo at right, you’ll notice that the drippings in the pan are carmelized and there really isn’t a lot of “juice.”  This makes extremely flavorful gravy even though there isn’t much liquid — you may have to add broth or water.

Carve the chicken as you would a turkey.

Happy Holiday!

Want more boat-friendly recipes? Check out The Boat Galley Cookbook with over 800 recipes or get a free PDF sample of it with 30 recipes:

Instead of roasting a turkey, how about a whole roast chicken for a holiday meal from a tiny kitchen?

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  • Teresa Dennis
    Posted at 14 February 2012 Reply

    Hey there, avidly reading your site as we prepare for our own adventure.

    Just a quick tip for people who don’t have a rack – cut an onion into wedges and use that. Not only does it serve as an excellent rack to help it cook better, but the onion flavours the meat, and makes absolutely delicious gravy.

  • Penelope Kingsbury
    Posted at 10 November 2013 Reply

    We do not have a normal boat oven on board. We have a GE Profile Convection / Microwave. This limits the size of what we can cook at Thanksgiving and Christmas. My husband is the chef and does the shopping. On his shopping trip, we goes armed with a tape measure. On our boat it is not “lbs. per person” but “inches per convection oven”! He gets a lot stares when. He stands there measuring the turkeys for sure. One curious butcher just had to know what he was doing and when my husband explained it, he then went in the back and came out with a cartloads of small turkeys for him to measure. It works ok to cook in the convection oven, but cleanup of that oven is a bear!

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 10 November 2013 Reply

      Great story! I always measure pans before buying them, but never the meat!

  • Sheryl Shard
    Posted at 21 November 2016 Reply

    A great alternative to turkey on the boat. Thanks for the recipe, Caroline, which I am keen to try, and your usual thorough yet easy-to-follow instructions. I sometimes buy a rotisserie chicken and dress it up with my own seasonings when reheating, then add separately-cooked stuffing, gravy, etc. for a festive meal with good results. Thanks again. Happy Holidays!

  • Jan Bogart
    Posted at 21 November 2016 Reply

    We have a 13lb. Turkey limit.

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