Thursday, January 30, 2014

Roast Chicken.

Cooking is combining edible ingredients to make something else edible.  Most dictionary definitions and most cooking also involve some amount of heat but adding sugar to cream and beating the heck out of it until it stands in delicious peaks is also cooking.  It can be exactly that simple or it can be more complex than imagined just a few years ago as shown by the current generation of molecular gastronomists. 

For the home cook, I think the goals should be nutritious, delicious and usually as simple as possible.  It's fun from time to time to make something incredibly complex, particularly if you're looking to learn something or entertain company, but for most things the fun is in the eating.

To my mind, nothing is simpler or more delicious than a properly roasted whole chicken.   How simple?  Well, Thomas Keller of French Laundry and Per Se fame recommends nothing but the chicken, some salt and pepper and maybe some thyme.  Here's his recipe.  To that I'd add time and some scissors.

You'll note that the recipe below calls for removing the chicken from the oven while the breasts are between 145 and 150F, well below the 165F the USDA recommends as a minimum temperature for chicken.  There's a long, complex response to that which I may go into if I decide to take this blog in a political direction, but basically the USDA is wrong and they are responsible for a lot of terrible chicken over the years.  If you don't like chicken because you think it's dry and tasteless, you can thank the USDA.  That said, you probably want to invest in a quality instant-read food thermometer like a Thermapen if you're going to cook things like chicken and pork rare. 

Also, this recipe is for a good-quality chicken properly raised and processed.  It will still work on that 6% water-added robo-chicken that was on sale at the grocery store, but it may take longer and the skin probably won't crisp up as well. 

The instruction to spatchcock the bird links to a preparation method championed by J. Kenji López-Alt at   He calls it butterflying instead of spatchcocking but I really like the word spatchcock.  If this blog has a lot of food talk, there will be a lot of links to Mr.
López-Alt.  I think you should subscribe to his column.  

Last but not at all least, after you've carved and eaten the chicken, save the bones!  In fact, cut off the wingtips which you probably aren't going to eat anyway and save those too.  Toss all the bones and any leftovers besides skin in a Ziploc bag, label the bag with the date and store it in the freezer.  Later we'll be making homemade chicken stock and you'll never be happy with the storebought stuff again.

A Simple, if time-consuming, recipe for roast chicken:

One 2- to 3-pound farm-raised chicken
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper  
2 teaspoons minced thyme (optional) 
Unsalted butter
Dijon mustard


The night before you intend to serve the meal,  Spatchcock your whole fresh chicken. Dry the chicken very well with paper towels inside and out. Most of the time when you're roasting something water is your enemy because it creates steam and uses up heat you'd rather have roasting your food. Then coat the bird generously inside and out with kosher salt and place into the refrigerator on a sheet pan overnight.  No, you don't have to cover it.  You want that chilly refrigerator air to wick off any moisture the salt draws out. 

Preheat the oven to 450°F.  We're going to cook it very fast and very hot. 
Season to taste with pepper -- you should already have plenty of salt from the dry-brining you did yesterday.
Place the chicken on a rack over a foil-lined baking sheet, with the breasts in the middle and the legs toward one end.
Roast it until it's done, 45 or so minutes for a spatchcocked bird. The legs should be at least 170F; hopefully if things have gone well the breasts will be between 145F and 150F when the legs reach temperature.
Remove it from the oven and add the thyme, if using, to the sheet pan. Baste the chicken with the juices and thyme and let it rest for 15 minutes on a cutting board.
Carve the chicken as desired. Keller recommends leaving the wings attached to each breast, just for fun. 

Serve with pats of butter and dollops of dijon mustard.  Just that simple.

Disclosure: Greg Miller is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to This post contains a link or multiple links to Amazon with additional code for the purpose of earning a fee.

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