This was my fourth or fifth roast chicken—I’ve tried it Thomas Keller’s way with almost no seasoning and no added fat, just lots of salt to dry out the skin so it stays crispy, "Peruvian-style," which is covered in a pungent mixture of garlic, cumin, cayenne, smoked paprika, oil and vinegar, and a one-lemon version of Marcella Hazan’s "Chicken with Two Lemons." They’re all pretty great, but rather than pick a favorite I seem to be settling into a combination of all three of those along with techniques and tips and techniques I’ve picked up from so many random places I can’t remember where and give them proper credit.
The basic formula is lots of garlic, lemon zest, rosemary, salt, and pepper tucked underneath the skin with the whole zested lemon and a few extra cloves of garlic shoved into the cavity. I truss it—no stitching, I just tie up the legs so it stays together—and rain kosher salt all over the skin. Then I roast it in a pre-heated cast iron pot at 425F for 20 min breast-up, 20 min breast-down, and 20 min breast-up or until the internal temperature is between 145-150F. I let it rest 15-20 min before carving, and usually serve it with a green salad.
We typically carve off the breasts and drumsticks and eat them like polite adults, with a knife and fork, but when we finish with that, we inevitably start picking at the remains with our fingers. After a few minutes of that, we abandon all propriety and flip the body over to dig out the oysters and lick the juices dripping down our hands and wrists, making little guttural noises. When’s the last time a boneless, skinless chicken breast made you do that?
A day or two later, after using the leftover meat in salads or sandwiches or omelets or quesadillas, I simmer the carcass for 4-6 hours with a bunch of vegetable peelings I accumulate in a zip-top bag in the freezer, along with a clove or two of fresh garlic, a couple of carrots and celery stalks if I have them around, and some thyme and bay leaves. That yields about two quarts of pretty amazing chicken stock. When we’re out of stock, it’s time to buy another chicken.
Details and pictures of the process after the jump:
Recipe: Roast Chicken
- 4-5 lb chicken
- 1 lemon
- 6 cloves of garlic
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 1 T. kosher salt
- 1 t. black pepper
- Dijon mustard, to serve
Rinse the chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Remove any giblets and save for the stock. Crush and peel the garlic cloves, and slice 3 of them thinly. Zest the lemon. Mince the rosemary.
Combine the lemon zest, rosemary, sliced garlic, black pepper, and about 1 t. of the salt and stuff underneath the skin of the chicken.
Truss the bird by tucking the wings up and under the back like so:
Stab the naked lemon with a fork or toothpick a half a dozen times, and insert it into the cavity along with the crushed cloves of garlic and some more rosemary. Then, take a long piece of kitchen twine or unwaxed dental floss, and loop it under both drumsticks. Make an "x" between the drumsticks and loop the twine under the opposite drumsticks, like you’re making a figure 8 around them.
Then wrap both ends around to the other side of the bird and tie a knot or a bow that sits just underneath the severed neck.
Rain the remaining 2-3 t. salt all over the outside of the skin, and let it rest so it comes to room temperature while you preheat the oven to 425 for 30 minutes with a cast iron pot large enough to hold the chicken inside.
When the oven and pot are hot, carefully place the chicken breast-side up in the pot and set a timer for 20 minutes. If you want to, you can oil the pan, but the fat from the skin will seep out and should prevent it from sticking. When the timer goes off, carefully flip the bird (lolz) and set the timer for another 20 min. Repeat that one more time so it finishes breast-up.
The USDA thinks your chicken should be cooked to 180F, which is probably why so many people think chicken is inherently dry, boring, and terrible. Salmonella can’t live at temperatures higher than 163, but I’ve seen a number of recipes saying you only need to roast chicken until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads 145F. My general rule with meat is to cook it to the lowest recommended temp I find, so 145F is the mark I shoot for. The other indicator with chicken is whether or not the juices run clear (instead of pink or red). The one time I let it go to 155F, it was too dry for my taste, and when I overcorrected in the other direction and took it out despite getting internal readings in the low 140s, the juices on the cutting board looked bloody. The temperature will continue to rise another ten degrees as it rests, so if you’re very concerned about food safety, go ahead and let it go to 155F, but much higher than that and you’re going to end up with dry, flavorless chicken.
While it rested, I decided to throw together a green salad. I had a heel of very stale bread, so I diced that up and tossed it in some of the fat from the pan and seasoned salt (dried onion, dried garlic, salt, black pepper, and parsley) and put it in the oven on a piece of crimped foil to toast. Then, I washed some lettuce and diced some carrots and topped that with some leftover roasted cauliflower from dinner a few nights ago. I make a quick dressing by whisking together one part white wine vinegar to two parts olive oil with about a teaspoon of Dijon and some more of the seasoned salt.
Simple, delicious luxury. I still try not to eat a lot of meat, or eat meat with every meal, but this is one of those things that makes me really glad I’m not a vegetarian anymore.