This post will be a little different from the last, as the last recipe was chosen and written up by the girlfriend, Kris Israel (because I was too lazy). For the most part, future posts will consist of either my tried and true recipes or experimental disasters that taught me better ways to make stuff, all interspersed with some fairly nerdy snippets of food chemistry. Today I’ll be discussing one of my favourite, best-ever recipes: Roast Chicken. Though it sounds simple, a proper roast chicken can be tricky to accomplish, as it is easy to stray into the realm of the undercooked, overcooked, dry, bland or tasteless.
This recipe, however, is guaranteed to be delicious, moist, and flavourful. And to top it all off, it’s quite easy to make. The key to this recipe is a liberal application of both salt and olive oil, and a long wait to allow them both to soak in.
Your list of ingredients and necessary equipment:
1 Roasting or Fryer Chicken, 3-5 lbs is best
Copious amounts of Sea salt, 3-4 tbsp min (Kosher Salt will work too)
Freshly ground black pepper 2-4 tbsp
Herbs 2-4 tbsp (I like to use a mixture of chopped fresh rosemary, sage, thyme, bay leaves, tarragon, or parsley, along with a bit of dried Herbes de Provence)
Cast Iron skillet, deep frying pan, dutch oven, casserole pan or other heavy duty pot, anything oven safe with some thermal mass
Step One: Rinse your chicken and lay it on some paper towels set in a large baking dish to drain. Pat dry inside and out (it doesn’t need to be bone dry, just not dripping) and let it rest while you move on to . . .
Step Two: Mix the salt, fresh pepper, dried and fresh herbs in a small bowl. Aim for roughly equal quantities of everything but salt, of which you want around 25% more. In another small bowl, pour around 1/4 cup of olive oil. The idea here is to have some small bowls you can reach into and get raw-chickeny hands all over without contaminating the source containers.
Step Three: Back to the chicken, where you’ll pull off any large, visible clumps of yellow chicken fat. They’ll probably be clustered around the head and the body cavity. Next, separate the skin over the breast from the breast meat, forming a pocket. Be careful here not to tear the skin (not because it will ruin anything, but because it’s prettier with non-ripped skin–though the skin does help insulate the breast meat and keep it from drying out).
Step Four: Pour some of the olive oil into the breast pocket, spreading it around with your fingers. Pour the rest of the oil into the cavity, onto the bottom, around the legs, and across the top of the breast, above the skin. Basically, coat the little bastard with oil. This will be messy, but don’t bother washing your hands because . . .
Step Five: Is just as messy. Take pinches of the salt-herb mixture, and spread them in the pocket you made under the breast skin. Essentially, you’re doing the same thing you did with the oil — coating the bird with salt and herbs under and over the skin, as well as inside the cavity. This is also why you put the bird into a large baking dish, because these two steps make a mess. You can wash your hands now though, because . . .
Step Six: Is easy. Let the bird sit and give your seasonings time to sink in. This is the most crucial step, so don’t cheat! It needs a minimum of one hour for the salt to do its work, preferably two. Cover the chicken with tinfoil or plastic wrap and go do something else–like get laid or watch a lame movie.
Step Seven: When two hours is up, or you can’t wait any longer, drop a little cooking spray or a teaspoon of vegetable oil into the bottom of your cast iron pot. (Ideally you want high walls so the heat radiates evenly) Throw the empty pot into an oven set to 500F/260C, and let oven and pot preheat together. When they reach temp, open the door, pull out the pot and set the chicken into it. It will be super hot, and may sizzle and spit, so use potholders and be careful. Any excess oil in the baking dish should be poured back over the chicken. Place the pot back in the oven and close the door.
Step Eight: Set a timer for 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the bird, and when the timer goes off TURN THE OVEN OFF BUT DON’T OPEN THE DOOR. Let the chicken rest for another half hour in the still hot oven, then pull out the pot. The chicken will be done when the juices run clear (not pink) when the thigh is pierced or the leg pulled away from the body. If you want really crispy skin, switch the heat back on to broil for five minutes or so before you pull the chicken out. I always pull the skin off my pieces though because toxins bio-accumulate and collect in skin and fat–this is why I had you pull off the chicken fat clumps earlier. If the bird isn’t done when you open the oven, don’t undo all our efforts to prevent dryness by cranking the heat up for a while to finish it quickly. Your oven probably just cools a bit too fast, so set the heat at 225F and be patient until the chicken is done.
Step Nine: Now that you are all sufficiently grossed out and horrified by the thought of toxins, enjoy The Perfect Roast Chicken.
When you’re comfortable with the recipe, feel free to change up the seasonings however you like, experiment with different herbs, oils , chili peppers, curry powders, whatever you please. But don’t mess with the salt or the blast heat.
What’s going on in this recipe: We’re doing a fast brine of the chicken without messing things up with too much moisture. The salt soaks in over the long rest, adds flavour and helps protect the protein chains from drying out when heated. The olive oil adds fatty goodness, helps lubricate the meat (again preventing dryness), provides something for the fat-soluble herb oils to dissolve into, and helps conduct heat efficiently to the meat during the blast heat phase. The blast heat followed by a slow-cook phase is designed to get the outer layers of the bird as hot as possible, providing a little browning–though not the full Maillard reaction–followed by a slower, gentler application of heat (facilitated by the thermal mass of the pot and switching the oven off) to allow the interior to cook fully as well, without drying the outer layers and the delicate breast meat too much.
I cooked some bread up along with this, but I decided to be daring and experimental and made the recipe up myself. The loaves didn’t turn out they way I wanted (because I started making bread a week ago and am not yet a thuggin’ bread baker) but here’s a link to a recipe I had great success with last week: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/classic-baguettes-recipe