Can we talk about the best roast chicken I have ever made? The method I will be using for the rest of my life?
Background: I bought a chicken at the farmer’s market. I bought an extremely expensive organic, free range, local chicken at the farmer’s market. I am not yet prepared to talk about how much I paid for this chicken.
The chicken was frozen. I left the chicken in the freezer and spent the past few weeks mustering up the courage to cook something that’s really more of an investment than a meal.
I also did some research. Local chicken, because it’s not bred to be so insanely top-heavy that it’s unable to stand (like industrial chicken) and it isn’t fed to within an inch of its life (like industrial chicken) has less thickness to its meat and thus can dry out when made in a strictly conventional way.
Fortunately, my research led me to Zuni Cafe’s Roasted Chicken.
Apparently, it’s famous.
For the methodology, definitely look to the very detailed instructions on Smitten Kitchen but the basic steps are:
1. Salt (what they did) or brine (what I did) to prevent moisture from leaching from the chicken as it cooks.
2. Cook the whole thing in a cast iron skillet! No additional fat necessary- the chicken renders off its own tasty juices and bastes itself, with the awesome heated flavorifying skillet machine. God I love my skillet.
I put my chicken in brine (4 cups water plus 1/3 cup kosher salt, stirred together) for about two days. I then put some herbs under my chicken skin (if you salt it you can do this earlier).
Preheated my oven to 475 degrees and preheated my skillet on medium heat.
Then I smacked down my chicken and threw it in the oven.
You start baking breast side up, then flip it, then finish it breast side up to get crispy. I removed it and flipped it, each time seeing more golden brownness and smelling more succulence!
I used fresh thyme for my herb that went under the skin (the recipe gives you several options- use what is fresh and beautiful!). I sometimes forget how much I love cooking with fresh thyme, and then I cook with it and I remember.
Approximately one hour (mine took about the maximum cooking time, because it weighed about 3 1/2 pounds) and it was brown and gorgeous.
And fully cooked! For me, that’s a triumph, as I’ve inadvertently served medium-rare chicken way too many times. Fortunately, when you use a brine, it 1. Cooks faster and 2. Stays moist so you have fewer fears of overcooking.
It smelled fabulous, it was gorgeously brown, and the skill was shatteringly crisp!
I bet you noticed the chicken’s beautiful roasted friends.
I have been reading some blogs that have been celebrating fall because it means the return of delicious roasted vegetables. So I don’t actually celebrate fall because it means the end of summer (boo) and the introduction of winter which is, if it’s anything else like last year’s DC area blizzard freakshow, going to suck (double boo). But I will celebrate roasted vegetables because they’re awesome.
For the last ten minutes of the chicken’s cooking time I threw in green beans (Cook’s Illustrated has a very comprehensive roasted green beans recipe that goes into the science how roasting is great for old green beans, which is exactly what I used!) and diced up potatoes, both tossed with olive oil and some fresh deck rosemary and thyme. Then when I took out the chicken I turned off the oven, so the veggies which had crisped on the outside from the high heat then just hung out in the toasty oven, finishing cooking through.
The best, BEST thing about homemade roast chicken is you get pan drippings. Lovely, lovely pan drippings.
And there you had it. A beautiful French bistro roast chicken dinner, except instead of cooking in four sticks of butter (cause let’s be straight, that’s how the Froggies get it so good) this chicken just cooked in its own, natural, local, free-range, organic, deliciousness.
My mother insisted that I include a picture of the thigh meat she selected, because it was so photogenic. The skin was SO CRISPY!
The white meat I selected may have lacked the crispy outside but it was so intensely moist.
And the real beauty of this recipe is that it celebrates the ingredient. Yes, I paid an arm and a leg for it, but for me cooking well is really about taking the best of something you can find- the highest quality, most fresh and perfect ingredient- and just enhancing all the goodness that is there.