21. August 2013 · Comments Off on On Roasting the Perfect Chicken · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , ,

Roast Chicken with Tossed Green SaladOver the years, I’ve made many an attempt to roast a chicken dependably and consistently. I’ve tried low-heat, starting with a super-hot oven to crisp the skin and then reducing the temperature to finish cooking.

Basting.

Not Basting.

Stuffing the cavity with aromatics, inserting compound butter under the breast skin.

Brining, oiling, etc., etc.

And over and over again, I’d end up with breast meat that was done and dark meat that wasn’t quite to proper temperature. So, I’d extend cooking times until all the juices ran clear, and end up with a mostly over-done bird. Then out came the foil, covering the breast and leaving the dark meat exposed to full heat. Eventually, the whole thing became such a pain that I gave up. Chicken became something only made in parts – legs and thighs under the broiler where with judicious turning everything ended up uniformly cooked and crisp.

This past week, the food co-op we joined tossed a whole free-range hen into the bag. It was either part that sucker out, or puzzle out how to cook the thing with a minimum of fuss.

Enter the sage advice of Thomas Keller – keep it simple. Don’t screw around with it. Prep simply, put it in the oven, and leave it the hell alone. No basting. No turning. No tenting. Just one moderately high temperature and go do something else for a little less than an hour. Don’t add anything to the chicken that adds moisture to the cooking – “steaming” the bird is a cardinal sin.

So, following this rather basic guideline, here’s a damn-near foolproof roast chicken.

What you need:

1 2-3lb. whole roaster chicken, free-range/pastured if you can swing it.
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp. kosher salt
Ground black pepper

What you do:

Preheat your oven to 450°F. Set the highest rack to the center of the oven.

Remove the giblet/neck package from the cavity if present. Rinse the chicken inside and out with cold water, drain and thoroughly dry with paper toweling inside and out. Seriously – get into the cavity with paper towels and make sure there’s no water pockets left in there.

Season the cavity with 1/2 tbsp of salt and black pepper to taste. Turn the bird as you season to make sure you get a good sprinkling of salt and pepper on all surfaces.

Truss the chicken. This will bring the legs tight to the thin part of the breast and protect it from drying out as it cooks. It’ll also keep the wings from burning.

Rub the chicken skin all over with the olive oil. Evenly season with the remainder of the salt, and grind on pepper to taste.

Place the chicken breast-up in a heavy saute pan that has been lightly oiled. (No Teflon, please, and NO PLASTIC/WOOD HANDLES!!!) Place pan with chicken in the oven. Close the door. Set the timer for 50 minutes, and GO AWAY!

When timer goes off, use an instant-read thermometer to check the meat temperature. Getting an accurate reading from a chicken thigh is just damned near impossible unless you’ve got an expensive Thermapen probe because of the small size and bones. Just take a reading from the thickest part of the breast – it’s done at 160°F. Don’t worry – the dark meat will be done by the time the whole breast is cooked.

!!!WARNING!!! – PAN HANDLE IS SKIN-SEARING HOT! USE A HEAVY MITT OR POT-HOLDER!

Remove from oven, remove from pan to a plate/platter, and cover with foil. Let rest for at least 10 minutes, 15 if you can. In the meantime, you can either deglaze the pan with some chicken broth and then thicken into a pan-gravy, or pour off the rendered chicken fat into a small saucepan, add 2 tbsp. unsalted butter and a pinch of dried thyme, melt together and let stand while the bird rests.

After resting, remove chicken to a cutting board. With a sharp 8-10″ chef’s knife, plunge the point midway down the breast just to one side of the breastbone (AKA keel-bone) all the way through the bird, and then cut downward separating the ribs from the backbone. Complete the cut, removing one half of the chicken – breast, wing, thigh, and leg – and plating it skin-side up. Repeat for the other side. Pick any morsels of meat off the keelbone/backbone for your own enjoyment, spoon a bit of your pan-sauce over each half of bird, and serve with a tossed salad or fresh veggies.

Et voila! Crisp skin, moist meat, simple prep and presentation. As close to a no-nonsense whole roast hen as you’re going to get.

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