Simple Roast Chicken, or more adventures in amateur meat preparation

Oct 8 2009

I named this one Larry

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.

nice, polite dinner portionWe 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?

after the carnage--the little spoons about 1/3 of the way down from the top are where the oysters wereA 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.

Larry and friends

Combine the lemon zest, rosemary, sliced garlic, black pepper, and about 1 t. of the salt and stuff underneath the skin of the chicken.

seasoning blend you can see the slices of garlic peeking through the skin a little in the upper left

Truss the bird by tucking the wings up and under the back like so:

tucking the wings

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.

truss, truss, truss the bird I know, it's lewd.

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.

okay, "severed neck" might be off-putting, but I like remembering that Larry was alive and be-limbed once

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.

roast chicken 014While 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.

Thanks for the meal, Larry.

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roasting chicken

Salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary (if I have any around) and rub it all over with oil.

Roast in a roasting pan @ 500 degrees--30 minutes breast up, 30 minutes breast down.

Lemon &tc. as available.

Me, I eat drumsticks, wings and thighs like an animal, enjoying the healthy crack of small bones, then eat breasts (and crisped skin) daintily with knife and fork.

Simmer for six hours? I can't do anything for six hours.

And I swear MSG gave me a sore throat and headached every time I had Chinese as a kid.


Do you get any smoking with

Do you get any smoking with the higher heat? I might try that next time.

Fortunately with the simmering, you can multitask. And if i have to leave the house for a few hours, i just turn it off and cover it and then bring it back to a simmer when I get back home. Seems a waste to throw the carcass out, especially when it makes such delicious broth.

I still doubt it was the MSG...have you had ramen or Doritos or Chex Mix or anything with a lot of parmesan or shitaakes in it since then and had a similar reaction? Also, anecdotal evidence suggests that many restaurants kept right on using MSG and just put up signs saying they didn't. Maybe it was just the sodium?

The basic formula is lots of

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.
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The basic formula is lots of

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. Dewa P0ker
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This sounds incredible. I'll be trying it out tonight.

let me know how it goes!

esp. if you have thoughts on the "perfect" temp

New to these parts via mgo

New to these parts via mgo and not sure if you check comments this far back but do you have any advice/pointers on carving. Has always giving me some trouble. Recipe looks good and I will take your advice on lower internal temp. Thanks


I'm still pretty bad at carving. I usually start by cutting both the breasts off as close to the breast bone as possible. Then I try to find the thigh joint on each side and cut through them to separate the legs/thighs from the body. From there, we just kind of ravage the rest of the carcass with our bare hands.

There are some (bad cameraphone) pictures of butchering a whole bird, raw, in the Coq au Vin post that are basically the same--breaking the bird down into six parts including the wings:


I had carved before I read this and tried it legs/thigh first which worked pretty well. Then carved (more like ripped) off the wing. And that was enough for dinner. Later tried to carve the breast whch was far less successful but I plann on using the breast meat for a curry chicken salad tomorrow.

Also thanks for the recipe came out really well. I added a Clementine to the lemon in the cavity and roasted on a bed of brussel sprouts. Highly reccomended.

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