I have self-doubts that yawn from here to Hoboken. “Christ, will I ever learn how to draw” and “what is financially secure” and “ugh my voice sounds stupid” and so on. HOWEVER. One of the few things that I’m confident that I do well is cook. And roast chicken is one of my more notorious dishes.
Where most people freak out on making roast chicken is that there are a million recipes for roast chicken. From the sillyful “engagement chicken” to “Million Dollar Chicken”, from Julia to Zuni to Crisp & Juicy.
I call this, instead, marry yourself chicken. This is less of a recipe, and more of a way to debunk chicken mythology.
The most important things to consider are, as with most cooking: simple things done with quality ingredients, technique, and timing.
Time: Start to finish, it’s about a day, but active time is probably 15 minutes.
Ingredients: a little tiny bird, the best quality you can find. This is non-negotiable. If you don’t want to marry your ownself after this chicken, you probably needed a better bird. (Someday, I’ll make this with a Bresse chicken and then I will vaporize on impact.)
Kosher salt. Butter. Herbs. Lemon. Veggies: carrots, onions, celery, whathaveyou.
Flavor: Think about your family/crowd. Sage and rosemary make for a holiday-ish bird. Cajun spices. Curry. Adobo and garlic. Think ahead for your leftovers - do you like chicken salad? Rogan Josh? Chicken tacos? Sammiches? Don’t start with too intense of a flavor profile unless you know you’ve got a small enough bird or a big enough crowd that you’re not going to have leftovers.
Prep: kosher-salt your bird at least a few hours ahead. A day is preferable, as the longer, the better. You want about as much salt as sesame seeds on a bagel. Put it in a plastic bag to prevent leaks. You don’t need to wash it - you’ll be spraying chicken juice all over your kitchen all to-catch-a-predator style.
About an hour before you want to cook, the butter mixture goes under and on top of the skin. Chicken skin is the best part, and anyone who says different is crazy. Try not to rip the skin. You’re kind’ve making a meat glove.
Yeah. Meat glove.
Heat: your bird is made of different pieces, with different fat content. She probably has more evenly distributed fat in the lower half of herself: legs, thighs. Ahem.
Trussing vs. spatchcocking: it’s a mod, and depends on the size of your bird and the depth of your lassitude.
I truss a bigger bird - weave some butcher’s twine between the legs to “tape” the bird to itself. There’s a million ways to do it, but your objective is to get a more even, “round” object.
A spatchcock is a good method for grilling- taking out the backbone and splaying it open.
Both are means to an evenly-heated end.
I don’t do either of these, normally, because I like the most surface area of crispy chicken skin.
How to cook: put the bird in a roasting pan on a latticework of celery, carrots, and onion, then buzz that up for gravy at the end of the cooking process. Alternately, butter thick slices of bread on all sides, put them in the bottom of a cast-iron pan, and set the bird on that.
Stuffing: you’re trying for an even distribution of heat, so either stuff the thing compactly, or don’t stuff it at all. Onions, bread crusts and lemons work wonderfully. I scoop that out after cooking, put it in a ramekin, and put it back in the oven to get it crunchy on top.
Setup: a pan only a bit bigger than your chicken.
Heat: set your oven to 400 degrees.
A word about letting meat come to room temperature - a water bath might do it, but leaving it on the counter just won’t work. Don’t believe me? Try it and test it with a thermometer. The difference is negligible.
Depending on the size of the bird, and the accuracy of your oven, you’ll want a ratio - high heat on each side, then lower the heat until you get an internal temp of 165. Food safety rules say you want it to be 180 before you eat it, but it’ll finish cooking as it rests - if it’s still at 165 between the oven and 10 minutes on the counter, you’re living in the Arctic or something.
Example: a tiny cornish hen, you’ll want to blast it for 6-8 minutes a side, breast side first. Flip it. Then put the heat down for another 15 minutes, take it out at 165, let it rest on the counter.
Carve, serve with lots of salad and wine.