Before I share this recipe with you, I have to admit that I don’t make whole roast chicken very much. Chicken isn’t so exciting on its own and when you roast the bird whole it’s often not as good as individual roasted pieces. But I’ll admit that it does look pretty impressive when you take it out of the oven and serve it on a platter. And it seems to be something that people are a little intimidating about cooking. But we’ve spent almost all of NaBloPoMo cooking together, so we may as well tackle at least one intimidating recipe before our time comes to a close, or at least one that looks difficult.
The problem with a whole roasted chicken is that it’s really trying to accomplish multiple things at once and those things aren’t necessarily compatible. What do people want out of roast chicken? Delicious juicy meat and crackly, crispy skin. Juicy meat comes from not overcooking the meat by keeping the temperature low and crispy skin comes from heat and a dry surface. Not really things that go together. The trick is to balance the two as much as possible.
Normally when I cook large roasts I go for the low-and-slow method but that doesn’t work well when you’re trying to crisp up the skin. And an interview I heard with Harold McGee, the man who knows all about the science of cooking, pointed out that high heat doesn’t result in an overcooked bird if you’re watching the internal temperature and it also helps to make the skin crisp since the heat evaporates the water in the skin. You can help this process by letting the skin air dry in the fridge for a few hours (unwrap it so the skin is exposed to the dry air of the fridge) or by patting it down for 15-20 minutes with paper towels. The dryer the skin is when it goes into the oven, the quicker it will turn crispy. Extra fat in the form of butter (compound butter please!) will help it brown while it roasts – the milk solids in butter turn a lovely golden brown when cooked.
I’ve put in some approximate times below but if you’re really serious about cooking meat well at home, you should really invest in a thermometer so you know when it’s done without cutting it up or guessing. That and a cooling rack are all equipment you really need to make a beautiful whole roasted bird you can carve at the table. Sure it looks impressive but you don’t have to break a sweat to get it done.
Serves 6-8 people
3-5 lb chicken
1 tbs kosher salt per pound
2-6 tbs butter, depending on the size of your bird
Truss the bird by tying the drumsticks together and tucking the wings under to keep the bird in a relatively compact round shape.
Pour 1 tablespoon salt into the bird’s cavity and sprinkle the remainder of the salt over the rest of the chicken. Wrap it up and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.*
Once the bird is done brining, drain the liquid that comes out of it (especially the cavity) and dry the skin thoroughly – paper towels, let it sit in the fridge, put it under a fan, whatever works.
Once the skin is dry, preheat the oven to 450F and line a 9 by 13 pan with foil. Place a roasting rack on top of the pan so that air can circulate all around the bird while it roasts. Put the bird on the rack, breast side up, and spread the butter across the skin – no need to put it on the underside since it will just melt off. Roast the bird for around 45 minutes, maybe just over an hour, until the breast meat is 137F and the thigh meat 157F** or until you cut into a joint and the juice runs clear. For that test, I like to cut where the drumstick meats the body to see if it’s done. When it reaches the final temperature, if you want it darker brown, put it under the broiler for a few minutes (no more than five) to brown it a little more.
When the bird is cooked, take it out of the oven and let it rest for at least 15 minutes before you cut into it. For maximum effect, carve the meat off the bird at the table and show off your skills.
*Salting helps flavor the bird and it draws some of the water out of the bird which concentrates the ‘chicken flavor;’ it’s a kind of brining. Overall the bird ends up juicier and more flavorful.
** Most cookbooks and websites, including the USDA will tell you to take out chicken when the dark meat is 160 and the breast is 140. I’m not trying to make anyone sick but the ‘take out’ temperature is intended so that the bird will reach its final temperature through carry over – the extra cooking that happens because the bird is so hot. For a hotter oven like in this recipe, the bird will carry a few extra degrees of carry over so I pull it out just a few degrees earlier. If you’re worried about food borne illness let it hang out in the oven until it gets those extra few degrees.