Monday, September 12, 2011

3 Steps to a Better Roast Chicken

A roast chicken is one of those preparations that manages to be comfort food in many countries of the western world.  Which is great in that it pleases many palettes.  The catch is this: despite its simplicity, it comes with more stigma, lore, secret tricks, and wive's tales than just about any preparation I can think of - many of which confuse and lead astray. 
All chicken roasting myths aside, a few simple steps and a little forethought can lead you towards a phenomenal roast chicken.

These are chickens pictured on the farm where I purchased mine.

  1. Buy a Better Chicken - Chicken is an ingredient where a few extra dollars will earn you a far superior product.   If you can, go to a farmer's market and purchase from a farmer with whom you can speak about the chicken.  In a super market, spring for the organic bird, they take just a little longer to raise and have more time to become tasty. ***
  2. Brine it- A soak in salty water goes a long way to accentuate the flavor and retain moisture during the cooking process.  Also, it doesn't require as much forethought as one might think - as little as three to four hours in a strong brine will do the trick. 
  3. Dry it- If dry = brown and brown = delicious, then dry = delicious. Right?  Yes, pat your chicken dry with paper towels or a tea towel inside and out.  Or more ideally, set it on a rack in the fridge overnight to completely air dry.   This allows for crispier skin and so leads to tastier chicken.

A Better Roast Chicken Recipe

1 whole chicken 3-5 lbs.

1 stick cold butter
1 bunch sage
1 head garlic, peeled and sliced

To brine your chicken, dissolve 6 tablespoons of salt in two cups (16 oz.) of hot water. Once it's dissolved, add 15 ounces of ice to cool the brine (if you don't have a scale, the brine should fill a quart container once you add the ice)  Submerge your whole chicken in the brine for at least three to four hours and up to 7.  If you expect to cook it directly after brining, you can brine it at room temperature.

1.  Dry it- whether or not you have brined your chicken, you should dry it out.  Pat it well inside and out with paper towels. 

optional: I love to stuff goodies under the skin of my chicken and one of my favorites is a trio of butter, garlic and sage.  I do this by scooting a spoon under the skin both from the cavity side of the breast and from two incisions at the hip joints.  Then I push the butter, sage, and garlic under.  If there is any sage or garlic left, I put it in the cavity.

3.  Season it- If you haven't brined your chicken, season it very well with salt.  If you have, you will still want to give it a light dusting of salt. 
4.  Cook it- Set your oven to 450˚F and keep it there.  It should take around 50-60 minutes in it's entirety.  To check for doneness a thermometer should should read 155˚F at the thigh.  If you don't have a thermometer, give the thigh a stab with a paring knife and the juices should run clear.
5. Rest it- Before doing anything to your bird, let it rest for 15 minutes.  This lets it finish cooking, and it lets the extreme heat redistribute. 

***Organic requirements for chicken - includes - organic feed, no animal byproducts, no hormones, no antibiotics, outdoor access, no irradiation, no pesticides (for the feed), no synthetic fertilizers, no sewage sludge (yes, folks, you read that right), no synthetic pesticides, and no GMO.

A side note: Typically I would truss a chicken, which involves tying up the legs and pulling them close to the body.  This adds mass to the area at the base of the breast and results in more even cooking. . . I didn't have any string.
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