Learning how to roast a chicken is tricky business. It’s one of those recipes that’s very straightforward yet requires attention to detail to execute properly. There’s very little to prep, but forgetting to preheat an oven or bring the chicken up to room temperature can leave your finished product lacking.
The fact is, different tastes and desires are going to dictate how you want your chicken to taste. Personally, I like super moist white meat with a skin that’s been crisped and then soaked in the cooking fat and juices from the bird. It’s kind of the best of all worlds, in my humble opinion. Some people will like their skin hard-crisped, and that’s cool — though damn near impossible to do without a professional rotisserie.
The point of this recipe is that it’s executable at home with any ol’ oven. An easy preparation that will help you up your game. You just need a few basic elements here and you’re set. So, let’s dive in and master roasting a chicken.
First and foremost, buy a quality chicken. Three phrases you should look for at the butcher or grocery store: Air-chilled, organic, free range. Yes, this means it’ll cost a little more. But the quality of the final product will outshine the extra few bucks you’re spending on good fresh food.
In short, Air-chilled means that the bird was cooled using a large room that’s pumped full of cold air. This is preferable to the chicken being cooled by getting plunged into a cold chlorine bath. It’s not rocket science as to why the former is better. As for organic and free range, well, taste is a factor, as is ethics. Remember, you’re voting with your dollars every time you enter the grocery store.
I grabbed a corn-fed chicken mostly because it was on sale. I dig the yellow tinge to the skin. It’s also a bit thicker and carries more flavor. I’m using a two-and-a-half pound chicken, which will easily feed four people. Or feed one or two people and still have plenty of leftovers for lunches.
I also gather some fresh sprigs of rosemary and thyme. I’m using Alpine salt here and cracked black pepper.
Lastly, you’ll need some food-safe twine, a skillet or baking tray, foil, and a chef’s knife. That’s it.
First, I take the chicken out the fridge and its packaging, at least an hour before I start. It’s imperative that this bird is room temp when it goes in the oven. If you toss a fridge-cold chicken into the oven, it’ll lower the temp of said oven and set you back.
Next, I preheat my oven. This is going to have to be dialed in since we all have different ovens. I have an old gas oven with heat from the bottom only. I set it to 425f. If you have a brand-spanking-new oven, you may have to err closer to 400f, especially if it’s electric. I also throw my cast iron skillet into the oven to preheat as well. Again, you don’t want to be putting cold tools in an oven when you’re roasting.
Next, I generously salt and pepper the inner cavity of the chicken. This is where the flavor is largely going to draw from as it roasts. I also put in a few sprigs of fresh rosemary. You can do other fresh herbs here. I’m using rosemary because I have a lot left over from Thanksgiving.
Now it’s time to truss. Trussing allows you to condense the meat so that it’s a more solid chunk and cooks more evenly. Start by holding the ends of your string and centering it under the pope’s nose. Bring the string around and over the ends of the legs and then cross it over and drop the string below the ends of the legs, creating a figure eight (see photo above). Pull that tight and draw your string towards the head of the bird. Make sure the neck flap is folded up and the string is holding in the wings. Tie a quick knot and you’re done. This is the sort of thing that’s a huge pain in the ass the first couple times you do it but you will get the hang of it.
Lastly, I generously salt and pepper the outer chicken skin. That salt is going to pull water from the skin and crisp it up as it roasts. I de-stem some thyme and sprinkle that over the bird too.
That’s it. I don’t add butter under the skin or any of those so-called “tricks.” If you have good meat, this isn’t necessary. Plus, butter is mostly water and will defeat the purpose of using salt to crisp and flavor the skin during roasting.
I grab my cast iron from the oven and pop the chicken in. It should sizzle when it hits the pan. I throw that in the oven and set a timer for 50 minutes.
Again, you’re going to need to dial this in. With a newer oven, you might only need 45 minutes. Either way, walk away from that oven. Don’t baste. Don’t turn. Don’t open. Keep that oven closed until the timer goes off. Trust the process.
We’re not done yet. When the timer does go off, remove the skillet and place on a board or rack. This is a crucial step. Tip the skillet to the side and use a spoon to scoop all those wonderful fats and juices over the chicken. Try to hit every surface, nook, and cranny at least twice. Then, you need to cover that chicken with foil and let it rest for ten good minutes.
If you leave your bird to sit in the open, the colder room temperature is going create stem. Stem is water leaving the chicken. Cover the skillet and trap all that steam in the chicken. The temperature is also going to continue to raise here, finishing the roasting process. If you’re skittish about it being done, by all means use a meat thermometer to assure it’s hit 140f. If it’s over 150f, it’s going to start to dry out.
This is the fun part. Use that ten minute rest to sharpen up your kitchen knife. Unwrap the bird and transfer it to a cutting board. Work carefully, it’s going to be scalding hot still.
Line up your knife along the mid-breast bone and cut down. You should be able to chop through easily. A lot of liquid will come out. Don’t wipe it away! Line up your knife again along the backbone and use your palm to chop through in one clean cut. Make sure to clear away the rosemary.
I like to leave the wings on the breasts. So, I go to work taking the legs and thighs off in one piece. First, a use the tip of my knife to slice the skin from the leg/thigh piece from the breast piece. Then I simply pull the leg/thigh piece off. Next, I cut down between the leg and thigh and find the joint and slice through. Repeat on the other half. Done.
I place the pieces of chicken back in the roasting skillet and take all the juices from the cutting board and pour them onto the chicken.
This is a juicy, herb-forward, delicious chicken. The white meat is still very moist — so much so that juices squirt from the breast when you slice into it. The skin is lightly browned with a nice fatty edge and plenty of umami.
I served mine with a small Caesar salad with cherry tomatoes to keep things simple. Enjoy!
- One 2 1/2 pound Chicken (high-quality)
- Alpine Salt
- Two sprigs Fresh Thyme
- Two sprigs Fresh Rosemary
- Cast Iron Skillet or small Roasting Pan
- Food Twine
- Chef’s Knife
- Cutting Board