This is hands-down one of my most-adored dishes. I love the smell of a chicken in the oven, the warm and cozy aroma filling the apartment with comfort and contentment. I love how luscious a browned bird looks, gleaming and golden. I love the heavenly juxtaposition of crisp, crackling skin and moist, delicious meat.
This is not a recipe per se, but more like a set of guidelines that I have developed over the years for cooking perfect poultry.
1. Buy the best. We have been fortunate to have stowed a wonderfully flavorful High Point Farms chicken in the back of the freezer for these first few brisk days of fall. Barring that, aim for organic, free-range, no hormones or antibiotics, humanely-raised and processed. Heirloom if you can get it.
3. Pre-heat that oven to 425-450°.
4. Dry your bird throughly. The dryer the skin, the crispier the chicken.
5. No stuffing. This is the secret to perfect chicken. I find that by the time the stuffing is done cooking, you have overcooked your lovely bird. I like just three things in my chicken: one lemon (cut into wedges if your chicken is small), one onion, and fresh thyme. If it’s Meyer lemon season, please do use one of those.
6. Use the best butter or olive oil. In Nigella Lawson’s cookbook, How to be a Domestic Goddess, she writes that when roasting chickens, you should anoint your chicken with the highest quality butter or olive oil the same way you might apply very expensive hand cream. I always liked that image.
7. Truss your bird tight. Like a compact little football.
8. Season liberally. In his Bouchon cookbook, Thomas Keller writes that he never butters his bird because the moisture in the butter creates steam that will ruin the integrity of the skin’s crispiness.
I’ve never found that to be the case.
I did once try Keller’s approach sans butter and found the skin to still be tasty, but less glossy and appealing overall. I do like his salting technique though: “I like to rain the salt over the bird so that it has a nice uniform coating that will result in a crisp, salty, flavorful skin (about 1 tablespoon). When it’s cooked, you should still be able to make out the salt baked onto the crisp skin. Season to taste with pepper.”
So by all means, hold your hand high and shower that bird with seasoning!
9. 20-20-20-15. I don’t always follow this but when I do, I find that I have a truly superior bird. Inspired by Patricia Wells’s Roast Lemon Chicken recipe in her Paris Cookbook, I start the bird in a super hot oven on one side. After twenty minutes, I turn it on the other side for another twenty. I turn it breast-side up for yet another twenty — a total of 1 hour. After that, I drop the oven temperature to 375° and continue roasting until the internal temperature reaches 165°, give or take about 15 more minutes .
Sometimes when roasting atop potatoes, I will just put the chicken in breast-side up at 450° for about half and hour before dropping the temperature to 375° for the remainder of the time. I find the results almost as good.
10. Remove from oven and let rest for 10-30 minutes before carving. Such an important step and essential for serving a juicy bird. Plus, you don’t risk burning your fingers!
A top-knotch carving knife is always an asset in the kitchen.
Keep the carcass and the juices! They are worth their weight in gold.