Nothing more soothing and relaxing than roasting a chicken, right? throw the thing in the oven, when house smells of goodness, 45 minutes later, remove and a marvelous deep golden browned chicken graces the dinner table with its presence. But it isn’t that simple, is it? Chickens and ovens are in my opinion a terrible combination (terrible is a strong word I here, but bear with me). It’s close to impossible to get the chicken cooked right unless we aren’t being to picky, and by picky I mean, sous vide picky… those chicken breasts tend to dry out before the skin is nice and golden. They do because lean meat like that of chicken breasts is really sensitive to heat (even when cooked sous vide at the correct temperature, leave cooking a little too long… you guessed, dry chicken breasts), and the muscle fibers compress when heat is applied and all the water leaves behind a dry boring chicken breast.
To get the skin to crisp up and turn that deep golden brown, the amount of energy (heat) needed usually results in an over cooked chicken. To get a perfect chicken cooked in the oven is virtually impossible but we can still get a pretty awesome chicken cooked in an oven. Tons of tricks can be found all over the web and cookbooks to achieve a great result. I’ll list some of my favorite here:
1. Don’t cook the whole chicken at once. Take the breasts out earlier.
2. Cook the whole chicken at the lowest temperature settings for 3-4 hours, then sear pieces on a skillet.
3. Sous vide the pieces and then sear them on a skillet. (no oven, and probably the only method that yields perfectly cooked chicken… sorry, it happens to be the case)
4. Smother the chicken with butter and baste with more butter along the baking time.
5. Detach the skin from the chicken, running your fingers under it, roast whole chicken.
6. Cover the chicken in bacon strips like a mummy and roast the whole chicken.
7. Brine the chicken, the cook using any of the approaches suggested above.
8. Roast it beer-can-chicken style! you can check out my post here.
I’m sure I left out tons of other suggestions, but I think the most significant ones, the ones I remember at least are listed above. But there is one more trick I recently read about. One that is actually a pretty old-school french technique in which the bird is roasted starting with a cold oven. I have yet to find this documented anywhere, the theory behind it is simple. When heat is applied gradually, temperature shock is minimized and muscle fibers firm up less during the cooking time. Would love to find more information on this, maybe time to consult Mr. Harold Mcgee.
I’ve been roasting chickens lately using this approach, the meat does turn out more succulent this way. It takes a bit longer to cook, but not that much longer. I’ve adjusted the procedure a bit which I explain below. Anyways, this is just another fun way to experiment with chicken roasting. One that I’m starting to get very familiar with!
1 whole chicken
1/2 Large White Onion
1 Meyer Lemon
2 Yukon Potatoes
Salt and Pepper to Taste
To roast the chicken:
I’ve portioned my chicken and left the chicken breasts together with the bone in to maximize flavor and moisture.
I’ve placed the chicken pieces over a bed of sliced onion and potatoes that have been tossed in some olive oil previously.
Salt and pepper generously, both vegetables and chicken.
I’ve covered the chicken breasts with lemon slices and some onion to protect them a bit from the convection heat.
After 30 minutes, or when the lemons start going too dark I take them off. And brush the entire chicken with vegetable oil.
After one hour of baking at 400F. I open the oven door. Brush the entire chicken with more vegetable oil and broil at 525F for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Some say, learning how to roast a chicken is key in becoming a better cook, and every cook that’s happy about his/her chicken roasting skills will very likely have his/her own tricks and use one technique or another, a combination..etc. I believe that too. It teaches so many important principles in cooking, all combined in a single roasting pan. Growing up, my mom would roast chickens only during the holidays, basically, once or twice a year. We’d eat rotisserie chicken at restaurants otherwise if the craving hit at any other time. I roast a chicken very other weekend, why not, it is so delicious!!! Why only during the holidays, mom? why??! Keeps those roastings skills dialed in people! Oh, and if possible, buy cage free chicken!
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Thank you, this is fabulous! I live in Northern France, and my (excellent) butcher is OBSESSED with the cold oven technique. I was just always too scared it wouldn’t work to give it a try, but your description and recipe make it sound easy. He recommends it for poultry and pork, and also for “en croûte” recipes (so that the meat has time to cook before the crust gets burned).
you are very welcome and thank you for stopping by and taking the time to write a nice comment! I think it should work with any protein, the concept is the same, but I’d have to experiment more. So far, it works really well with chicken. I will try it with pork shoulder. And I’ve been meaning to try some en croûte recipes, I might experiment with the cold oven approach now that you mention it, thank you!!! 🙂
I couldn’t agree more with you; I love the smell of chicken in the oven!
This recipe is just great; I’ll try next time. Gorgeous pictures!
Thank you Rosa!
Nice! Amazing photos and tons of great information!
I’ll be posting a recipe on baked chicken as well. But I kind of taking a easier recipe to just deal with drumsticks.
This is a great post is just in time for me to link to!
Thanks Dan! Glad you liked it!!! Can’t wait to see your post! 🙂
I dont understand a lot of the words! But it looks amazing!!!!!!
Next one will be in Spanish! Thank you!! 🙂
Very interesting and great photography as usual. I think I’ll stick with sous-vide, but I’ll remember this for when that’s not an option for whatever reason. If you can find a chicken that’s not only cage free but also a bit older (say, 6 months), it will be even better with a lot more flavor.
oh, yes, there’s that regarding the age of a chicken, and I would have to get my chicken from a farm directly, I don’t think chicken sold in stores here in the US have the chicken age written anywhere. Good to keep in mind. Thanks for the tip Stefan!
That age ought to be printed, but you are right that it is not and that is not strange because in most cases all chickens are exactly the same age as it is cheapest not to let them live a day longer than necessary to reach the required weight (e.g. 42 days for 3 lbs).
So sad and so true.
Remarkable. Truly lovely. I have roasted countless chickens, yet this one is beautiful. I truly appreciate your techniques and favorite tips. I do agree, how to roast a chicken is key in becoming a better cook. Love your recipe, I am going to follow it for sure.
thank you! so happy you enjoyed it! Let me know if you find it useful, Id love to know!
I really like the idea of starting with a cold oven. My oven isn’t hot enough anyway (long story, faulty oven) and fluctuates between burning and not very hot. At least with a cold oven, I know exactly what temperature it starts at: room temp.
yeah, i remember your story about the oven. Hope you get a good one soon. If you have a dutch oven, you should probably stick the chicken in there and that whole thing in the oven, to protect the bird a little better from the temperature swings.
Great post! I will definitely try it out. I remember broiling chicken at 275 for hours when making baby food to prevent it from drying out but well it wound being grey unappetizing chicken. Which is fine when you’re blending into baby food haha.
hahaha! yeah, at 275 ti would need more than 2 hours to show any sign of browning 🙂 but Im sure it was super tender and juicy.
I do step 5 and then roast it whole, but upside down (so its little legs are sticking up.) Been cooking my chicken like this for years and end up with succulent meat all over 90% of the time! (I blame the remaining 10 on getting to grips with new oven, etc…)
🙂 awesome, and I have a new oven too, it works so much better than my old one. I think I literally destroyed my old one from abuse.
Oh I agree, I love roasting chickens too. And the lovely smell it gives the house.
yeah, house just smells amazing! some say thats flavor escaping through the air… i say.. thats a fair price to pay for an wonderfully smelling apartment hahaha 🙂
I know its not like flowers but its great 😉
i dont know.. i like it better than flowers 😉 Im a guy, what can I say..
We eat roast chicken at least once a month. I’ve got four leg quarters to cook tonight and will try this cold oven method. I lean towards the hot and fast camp but agree with seeing what Mr McGee might have to say. I’ve got an addition from 1993 when I was in school for nutrition:) love that book and haven’t read it enough lately.
Next summer try roasting a whole chicken on a bed of garlic scapes. I think you’ll like that.
And dammit I forgot to put a sous vide on my Christmas list.
Hi Wendy! Yeah, McGee’s book is extremely useful and he has another one out there, the science of good cooking I believed is called, I haven’t read that one. Maybe Santa will bring it to me. Where do you find garlic scapes, I had to look that up on the web, didn’t know what it was 🙂 are they like garlic sprouts? also, do you roast the chicken breasts facing up?
They are the stalks growing up out of the garlic just before it’s harvested. So in the pacific northwest, it’s around mid- late July we are seeing them and I have some in the garden. I’ve got a photo on FB from July 2013- I just stuck the whole chicken on top and the garlic infused the whole chicken. Go like me. i just liked you:) flipping funny life we are living! cheers
hahha, thanks Wendy! I will have to give this a go soon. I’m planning on moving to a new place with hopefully a backyard and I will be growing all sorts of stuff for my kitchen!