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!