Small Stuff Matters When Roasting Chickens
Details can make a big difference.
Every chef and cookbook author has their take on how to make a perfect roast chicken. Who knows who's right: Baste it with butter? No, rub it with olive oil. Fast at high heat versus slower at a lower heat? Sear it first on top of the stove or stand it up vertically? Keep turning it from one side to another. There's a million of 'em.
It can make you nutty. And insecure. But here are tips I know can make a difference:
- Buy a good chicken. Not one of those really yellow supermarket things but a good chicken, like Murray's or Bell & Evans. Or one from a local producer if you're lucky enough to have access. If you don't start with a good chicken, there's nothing you can do to make it better.
- Use a meat thermometer to check if it's done. Whether you're roasting it at 475º F as Thomas Keller suggests (I tried this once and yes, the chicken was probably the best I had ever made but I also smoked out my entire apartment as well as my upstairs neighbor's), or a more typical 350 º F, your goal is to cook the chicken to reach an internal temperature of 160º F (as it rests it will rise to 165 º F). Use an instant thermometer to know for sure. The other test that it's done is that when you cut the bird, the juices run clear. Don't ever eat under-cooked poultry or it will make you sick.
- Salt and pepper the bird inside as well as outside.
- Add fresh seasonings, such as sprigs of thyme or garlic cloves, plus 2 quarters of a fresh lemon to the cavity.
- When roasting, put the chicken legs in toward the back of the oven where it's hotter, helping the legs, which take longer to cook, to roast slightly faster than the breasts which will be closer to the oven door.
Maybe you already do all that. Here's a final step: tie the legs together with a piece of butcher's twine.
Tip: It's essential that the twine is 100% cotton because any synthetics will melt in the oven's heat and who wants melted nylon on your food?
I'm clumsy when it comes to trussing a chicken. I never do it right and even attempting it gets me annoyed. So instead I just take an 8-inch length of string, hold the ends of the legs together and simply tie them together at the little knuckles, knotting and trimming the string.
This will keep the bird's cavity closed which will help it cook more evenly while also holding the juices inside instead of draining out. And the bird will stay in position, keeping the legs from flapping around as you put it in the oven. When done roasting, just snip the string off and carve the bird in your usual way.
Small things. But you'll be amazed how much better your simple roast chicken will be.