Friday, December 17, 2010

The Best Roast Chicken in the History of All Time

I don't know what it is about roasting an entire bird...
but I love it. Maybe it is because it looks like a real chicken, not some sort of packaged something or other. Maybe it is because it makes me feel closer to the food. Maybe I think it looks 'rustic'. But, for whatever reason, I find roasting a whole chicken deeply satisfying.

And, we haven't even got to how good this thing tastes yet. There aren't many things that make me, well, devour them. But, this roast chicken is a whole other story. I don't even use a knife and a fork. It is that good. Though, what else would we expect from a roast chicken recipe from Thomas Keller?

I once heard Mr. Keller say that if there was anything every home cook should learn to make, it is a roast chicken. He was right. This is a masterpiece. And it is so alarmingly simple.

The most important thing is to start with a good chicken: go organic. It tastes better, and I am pretty sure it is the right thing to do.

Next: take out the giblets, and pat the whole chicken dry, which will help it brown. Then, put some rosemary in the cavity. Now, time to truss. There are loads of videos on-line about how to do this. Basically, you want to tuck the two wings in, and then you want to use some kitchen twine to tie the drumsticks, so they are snug against the breast. If you don't do this, then the drumsticks will be flailing beside the breast, and will cook much quicker than the breast meat. And who wants dry drumsticks? So, truss the bird. Then, time to shower, and, yes, I said shower, it with salt and pepper. You want a good coat of salt on the outside, which will give it a lot of flavor as it roasts.
What I like to do is put the chicken on a bed of root vegetables like carrots and potatoes, which I have tossed with olive oil and rosemary.
Now, you are ready to assemble the whole thing (how easy was that?!). Nestle the chicken among the veggies. Pop it in a very hot oven, we're talking 450, and roast (cooking times/pound below). Don't open the door, don't baste. Just let it get glorious by itself.
Take it out when the thermometer registers 160 at the thickest part of the breast. Take it out of the oven, and, please, let it rest. This allows it to continue to cook and to retain all its juices.

Once it it has rested for 15 minutes, time to carve it up. Jamie Oliver has a very nice 'how-to' video on how to carve a chicken. But, I pretty much make it up as I go. Sprinkle some fresh thyme all over it, and serve it in a nice dish with the veggies.
And, get ready to enjoy the best roast chicken in the history of all time.

My Favorite Simply Roast Chicken by Thomas Keller (adapted from Bouchon)
One organic chicken (if you can get 2-3 pounds, that is the best, but 4-5 pounds will work also)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4-5 carrots, cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks*
2-3 medium potatoes, quartered
7-8 stalks of fresh rosemary
2 tsp fresh thyme
Dijon mustard (optional)

Preheat oven to 450. Rinse the chicken, then dry it very well with paper towels, inside and out. The less it steams, the drier the heat, the better.

Salt and pepper the cavity, and add 3-4 rosemary stalks to the cavity. Then truss the bird.** Now, salt the chicken-- I like to rain the salt over the bird so that it has a nice uniform coating that will result in a crisp, salty, flavorful skin (about 1 Tablespoon).*** When it's cooked, you should still be able to make out the salt baked onto the crisp skin. Season to taste with pepper.

Toss the carrots and potatoes with 1-2 Tablespoons of olive oil, salt, pepper, and the leaves from 4-5 rosemary stalks.

Place the vegetables in a saute pan or roasting pan and nestle the chicken among them. When the oven is up to temperature, put the chicken in the oven. I leave it alone-- I don't baste it, I don't add butter; you can if you wish, but I feel this creates steam, which I don't want. Roast until it's done, when the thermometer reads 160.**** Remove it from the oven and add the thyme, if using, to the pan. Baste the chicken with the juices and thyme, and let it rest for 15 minutes on a cutting board.

Carve. Serve with mustard on the side.

*You can use whatever root veggies, in whatever proportions you like. Or, you can skip them all together, which is what Keller does in the original recipe.
**Look up a video on-line
***Rain it down from about 1 foot above it
****If you have a 2-3 pound bird, it should be done in about 50-60 minutes, a 4 pound bird in about 55-60 minutes, and a 5 pound bird in about 70-90 minutes.

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