A wise woman once said, “Good roast chicken will never let you down.” Lately, these are the words I have chosen to live by, at least once a week I roast a chicken for dinner. Cooking a whole bird is an earthy and pleasurable experience. But what exactly is “good” roast chicken? The following preparation, inspired by Thomas Keller, gives us the essentials and nothing more with crispy skin, good seasoning and moist meat. I love Keller’s simple approach to everyday food. His technique is easy and delicious, virtually fool-proof. This will work beautifully with turkey too, resulting in a juicy bird with dark mahogany skin every time.
A few weeks ago, I prepared dinner for a group of outdoorsy adventure types at a small cabin (shout out to Cabem B!) in the Smokey Mountains. On the North Carolina/Tennessee border, I made myself at home in a bare bones kitchen and roasted a chicken for my friends. Happiness is serving a group of hungry mountain bikers a crispy roast chicken. It was gone in a snap, rustic finger food at its finest.
What’s the secret to the crispiest roast chicken (or turkey) you will ever have? The bird must be dry, bone dry inside and out. The less steam, the drier the heat, the better. Do not add any oil or butter and do not stuff the cavity. Use paper towels to remove all the moisture from the bird, wipe it down a few times if needed. Salt the bird liberally inside and out, so that a salty crust sits atop the skin. Generally, for a 3 to 4 pound bird I use 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of kosher salt. Let it come to room temperature before putting it in the oven.
Place in a 425 degree oven and leave it be. Try not to open the oven, check on the bird through the window. If it is browning unevenly, feel free to rotate it. Roast from from 60 to 75 minutes. I turn on the broiler during the last few minutes of cooking time to give the skin an extra boost of crispiness, do not walk away. The skin can burn quickly. Remove from oven. This is the perfect time for the chef and any helpers to enjoy a treat and ceremoniously remove the wings and the oysters (the scrumptious morsels of meat nestled mid-back). Thomas Keller’s favorite post roast treat is the chicken butt, a triangular morsel filled with fat and covered in crispy skin. Try it! Set the bird aside and let cool for at least 20 minutes.
I like to add root vegetables to the chicken pan, coat in pan juices, scrape the fond and place the pan back in the oven. The chicken drippings will flavor the vegetables beautifully, cook until fork tender. Right now, my two favorite veggies are white fleshed sweet potatoes and carrots. Once the chicken has rested, slather it with butter and serve it with dijon mustard and roasted garlic on the side. If you are feeling fancy, whip up a batch of fresh butter and wow your dinner guests!