Tue 28 Apr 2009
The first time I roasted a chicken, my dad talked me through it over the phone. The conversation went something like this:
Dad: Is the oven hot?
Dad: Okay, put the bird in the roasting pan.
Me: Mmhmm, done.
Dad: Now spray it with Pam.
Me: The pan, or the bird?
Dad: The bird - just give it a good spray all over.
Me: Got it. Now what?
Dad: Peel an onion, and just shove the whole thing inside.
Dad: The bird.
Me: In its butt?
Dad: We generally call that the cavity, but yes. Pop it in.
Me: Are you serious?
Dad: Yes! It will taste good.
Me: Okay, one onion in the butt coming up.
Dad: I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that.
Me: Go on.
Dad: Shake a little salt and pepper over the outside and stick it in the oven. Check it in an hour.
Me: That’s it?
Dad: That’s it.
And that really is it. You can get a delicious roast chicken with almost zero work. If you’ve never cooked a chicken before, and if you break out in hives of OH MY G-D THIS IS SO COMPLICATED when you read the rest of this recipe, go ahead and try the Butt Onion method. But if you are feeling at all adventurous (and by “at all” I mean on a “dimes in your penny loafers” level), try your hand at the brine and paste method I describe below. It’s really, really delicious. And the smells that will fill your kitchen will blow your mind.
This recipe is an absolute stunner if you are trying to impress someone with your cooking skills. It comes out looking like a million bucks, and your guests will be rendered speechless when they take a bite of the moistest, tastiest chicken they have ever had. The brining will assure you very moist meat (heh) - just don’t overcook it. I know the spectre of undercooked chicken and all its various evils can keep the best of us up at night, but a meat thermometer or instant-read thermometer is all the backup you need. I highly recommend an instant-read for its speed, accuracy, and overall niftiness. I came upon this one by way of Cooks Illustrated, and was impressed that it was both extremely functional and highly affordable. Though not absolutely critical, it’s one of those pieces of equipment that can really streamline your cooking process.
Perfect Roast Chicken
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated
One medium, whole fryer or roasting chicken
10 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
½ cup kosher salt
1 T whole peppercorns
2 T herbs de provence
Vessel large enough to hold your chicken, submerged
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
½ cup olive oil
1 t sea salt
1 T herbs de provence
Additional olive oil for basting
Potatoes, if desired
The first step takes place a full hour before you get the bird in the oven, so plan accordingly. Depending on how much the thing weighs, this recipe typically takes me between 2 ½ and 3 hours to execute from start to finish.
Place the unpeeled garlic, salt, peppercorns, and herbs de provence in a gallon-sized freezer bag. Smoosh as much of the air out as you can and seal the bag. Using a rolling pin or something else solid, bash the contents of the bag until the garlic is in a state you would describe as “smashed” and the other stuff is starting to smell good.
Dump the contents of the bag in a large stockpot or giant bowl and add the chicken (make sure you check the cavity and take out any of the extra bits, if they are included). Add enough cold water to cover the bird and stir as best you can to start dissolving the salt. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Towards the end of your brining hour, make the paste by combining the peeled, minced garlic, olive oil, salt, and herbs de provence in a small bowl. Preheat the oven to 450. If you are using a roasting pan with a rack, spray the rack with a little oil.
Remove the brining biddie from your fridge. Line a dinner plate with a few layers of paper towels and gently set the chicken on them, making sure to turn the body cavity side down to let the extra water drain before you do. Blot it with paper towels, and turn it breast-side up (the bones of the drumsticks will be pointing up at you).
This next part will sound tricky, but is actually really easy once you get your hands in there and start poking around. With clean hands, slide your fingers up under the skin that covers the breast and thighs. You will start at the opening by the cavity and just slip and slide your way under the top layer. Dig around in there, gently (that’s what she said – sorry, I couldn’t resist) and really open it up to make room for the paste. Grab a few fingerfuls of paste and shove it in there, smooshing around until you can see that it’s making its way far under the skin. Add another little handful to the cavity, and smear the rest on the outside of the bird. If you run out of paste, just use some olive oil.
In a perfect world, you would use twine to tie the legs together here, but I never have twine when I need it so I never do this step. Still tastes like chicken.
Place the bird breast-side down on the rack and roast 15 minutes. If you are going to add potatoes, use this time to get them ready – wash, peel, cut into relatively even chunks that are approximately 1” by 1”. Toss them in a bowl with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper.
After the first 15 minutes of roasting, pull the pan out of the oven and scatter the potatoes around the pan. Roast for another 15 minutes.
Pull the pan out again and decrease the oven temperature to 375. Using tongs, paper towels, calloused hands, whathaveyou, flip the bird over so that the breast is facing up and lightly brush with a little more olive oil. Return to the oven and roast until a) the skin is golden, b) the thickest part of the breast registers at least 160 degrees on an instant read thermometer, and c) the inner thigh registers 165-170 degrees. Yes, you can use a regular old meat thermometer, but a decent instant read is so much better and is surprisingly inexpensive.
This last part of the roasting will take anywhere from 30 to 50 more minutes, depending on the size of your chicken. Set your timer to 30 and start checking every 10 minutes thereafter. If the skin doesn’t look at all golden, it’s not done. It will be beautiful, fragrant, moist, tender, and delicious when it reaches the finish line. Another way to test doneness - wiggle the drumstick. If it moves easily, it’s done.
After it comes out of the oven, transfer the chicken to a plate and let it rest for 5 minutes or so. Carve to the best of your abilities and enjoy. I will confess that I am not the best carver in the world. This video is fantastically helpful, though I think the only way to really get good at this is to screw it up a time or two and learn from your mistakes. Even if it’s ugly, it will still taste like chicken. Once you have as much meat off the bones as you can manage, you can use the carcass to make delicious, cheap chicken stock, provided that you have an onion, a big pot, and an afternoon (stay tuned for a recipe).