The Absolute Best Way to Roast a Chicken
Roast chicken... two simple words that evoke images of comfort, warmth, delicately crisp, golden brown skin, finger-licking chicken juices dripping down your chin… Okay, enough of that. Go take a cold shower.
While this dish can be so simple — and great to have in your dinner repertoire on cold, wintery nights — it seems that roast chicken nirvana lies just beyond the grasp of many home cooks.
Here are a few tips to take your chicken to the next level:
1. Spatchcock your chicken.
Wait, come back! It's a lot easier than it sounds and makes an enormous difference. Starting with a whole bird, take any innards out from the cavity and discard them. Flip the bird (!) onto its breast. With a sturdy pair of kitchen scissors, cut from tail to neck just to the left, then just to the right of the backbone to remove it. Discard the backbone or save for chicken stock. Flip it back to breast-side up and push down on it to flatten. That's it!
In this "butterflied" state, the chicken will cook faster, the skin will crisp up better (no steamy, pale "under" parts), and the breast and dark meat will finish cooking at the same time. Bonus: when it's time to serve, it's super easy to hack it up into neat, individual pieces, instead of wrestling with a roly-poly, trussed up bird (as entertaining as that would be to watch).
2. For better browning and crisping, start at a moderate heat.
Begin cooking your chicken at about 375 degrees F, until the breast meat is roughly 125 degrees F (about 40 minutes for a 5 pounder), then blast it for the last 20 minutes at a super high heat (475 degrees F) or until the breast meat reaches 165 degrees F. For an extra pop of roast-y, toast-y color, you can even broil it on high for a couple of minutes.
3. Season the heck out of your chicken.
Don't be afraid of salt. Chicken is a mild bird; even the highest quality chickens are still fairly tame in flavor. Use your seasonings liberally on the inside and outside (or top and bottom, in this case), particularly on the breasts, which have a much lower ratio of skin to meat than the thighs and drumsticks.
4. Switch up your seasonings.
I love slathering the whole bird with softened butter, finely chopped garlic, whatever herbs I have lying around, lemon zest, and lemon juice, but when I'm feel frisky, I'll use a rub of chili powder, lime zest, lime juice, cumin, brown sugar, and cayenne or I'll brush the chicken with a potent mixture of coconut milk, soy sauce, and Thai red curry paste.
5. Do NOT cover it with tin foil once it's out of the oven.
Why did you just work so hard to get that skin crisp if you're just going to steam it all away? Let the chicken rest, exposed, for 10 minutes before serving. Trust me, it'll still be plenty hot when it lands on your plate.
To round out the meal, throw a bunch of seasoned, 1-inch chunks of veggies — carrots, Brussels sprouts, red onions, parsnips, and potatoes come to mind — under the chicken for a satisfying, one-pan meal.
Or, better yet, take it a step further by making an out-of-this-world bread salad. Toss those roasted, chicken-fat-infused veggies (maybe don't include the starchy potatoes) with some zesty vinaigrette, a few cups of toasted bread, cut into 1-inch chunks, and fresh arugula.
Another of my favorite ways to serve roast chicken combines memories of my honeymoon in Paris with one of my favorite guilty pleasures: frozen shoestring fries. Serve the roast chicken with a pile of golden frites and a simple green salad for a meal that's très Parisienne.
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