Everything I know about Roasting Chicken

Mar 1, 2019 | Chicken and Poultry, Cooking Tips

“You can always judge the quality of a cook or a restaurant by roast chicken. “

Julia Child

There are few things in this world better than a perfectly roasted chicken. The crispy browned skin, the tender, juicy meat. What’s not to love? The thing is, I fear these days, few people have ever actually had a perfectly roasted chicken.

It isn’t nearly as common as it used to be to cook a chicken whole. More often than not, when we buy chicken we buy it in pieces. Not only is the chicken in pieces, we only buy the pieces we want. Breast, legs, thighs, and wings. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this except for what we’re missing.

There is something magical and special about a really good roast chicken. The way the skin crisps up. The way the fat renders and evenly flavours the meat. The way the bones help to flavour the meat and keep it juicy. It really is amazing.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, today we are talking about roast chicken. More specifically, we are talking about

Everything I know about Roast Chicken

Okay, first of all, there are many, many ways to roast a chicken. One way is generally not more right than another. But for today, we are focusing on a very basic, French style roast chicken based on Julia Child’s own recipe. We are aiming for very specific results which are crispy brown skin, and juicy meat.


Ingredients

Often when people go to roast a chicken they open up their spice cupboard and seemingly start grabbing things at random. The chicken get’s coated with paprika, garlic powder, oregano, chili flakes, or whatever else is in the line of sight when the cupboard door opens on the spices. In all honesty, I was guilty of this for a long time.

A really good roast chicken needs only four ingredients:

  • a chicken
  • salt
  • pepper
  • butter

It seems too simple. Almost ridiculous. But it isn’t. You can add one onion into that ingredients list which can be put in the chickens body cavity for flavour but it really isn’t needed.


Secrets

One of the most important things, or the big secret, to getting the brown crispy skin on a chicken, is dryness. The skin has to be dry. Traditionally, chickens and other poultry would be tied up and left to dry for a few days.

Drying the chicken does a few things. First of all it removes moisture from the skin. If that moisture isn’t removed prior to cooking, it will come out during cooking. It is very difficult to develop browning on a wet surface. The second thing drying does is to intensify the flavour of the skin and the chicken.


How To Dry A Chicken

Ideally, when you buy a chicken, it should be taken out of the package and set on a rack over a pan which will collect any drippings. This is put in the bottom of your fridge uncovered for a couple of days and rotated every twelve hours or so.

This seems like a lot of work and like the opposite of everything you have ever been told. We have a tendency to wrap or cover everything that goes into the fridge. The reason we do that is to protect from contamination by other food products and to prevent food from drying out.

When we are drying a chicken we aren’t really that concerned with other food products contaminating it, and we put it on the bottom of the fridge so it won’t contaminate other foods. We aren’t worried about it drying out because that is actually the result we are aiming for.

Can’t I use a paper towel to dry it?

Using a paper towel to dry off a chicken is only going to pull moisture off the surface. It’s definitely better than nothing but it’s not going to give you the same result as air drying the chicken. You won’t get the same quality roast chicken.


Cooking the chicken

The chicken is dry and now it’s time to cook it.

The first thing you want to do is season the inside of the chicken with salt and pepper. Next melt some butter, about 1/4 cup. Once the butter is melted you want to brush the dried chicken with it on all sides. Then season the surface of the chicken well with salt. Put the chicken breast side down on a rack set over a roasting pan and put it in a 400°f oven.

Rotating

Every 15 minutes or so you want to rotate the chicken by a quarter turn. So, it started breast side down, after 15 minutes rotate it so the wing and leg on one side is down. After another 15 minutes that chicken will be rotated again, this time breasts will be facing up. You get the idea.

Basting

Every second time rotate it, so every time the breasts are facing up, or facing down, you want to baste the chicken with a bit more melted butter.

Cooking time and finished temperature.

Depending on the size of the chicken it is going to take between an hour to an hour and a half to cook it. Just keep rotating it every 15 minutes until it is done cooking. It’s done when the legs and wings easily move in their sockets or when a thermometer placed in the thickest part of the breast reads 170°F.

Remove the chicken from the oven, and keeping it on the rack it was cooked on let it rest for at least 10-15 minutes.

how to roast a chicken

Serving the chicken

While the chicken is resting a gravy can be made with the drippings that have accumulated in the bottom of the pan.

For my money a roast chicken is best served with mashed or roasted potatoes and a few vegetables.


Conclusion

I’m not delusional. I know that no one is going to cook a chicken like this all the time. It’s a lot of work. It isn’t a complex process but it takes time. This type of chicken is really meant for special occasions or when you have people coming over for dinner.

If you’ve never had a chicken like this, I highly, highly suggest that you try it at least once. You won’t believe that a simple roast chicken can taste so good.

If you do make this for guests, document the process with pictures because it will be so good that they won’t believe that you made. Seriously!


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