The Best Way to Roast A Chicken

This is it! The Roast Chicken Project is DONE. Whew. What a fun 12 months!

I think originally I thought I would explore any and all methods that exist out there for roasting a chicken. I’d spatchcock. I’d roast on cans of beer. I’d even grill! I’d cook at low heat. I’d cook at high heat. I’d baste. I’d brine. I’d dry brine. I’d do any and every recommended technique.  And I certainly tried my fair share of methods, and pulled in some outside help to get it done. But you know, 12 chickens really doesn’t allow for well, more than 12 methods, and once you factor in my desire to get experimental and then falling head over heels for the second method I tried, it think I wound up really trying more like 8 different methods, 9 if you stretch the definition of “different.” Oops. But that’s still a lot! I don’t feel like I failed in my mission by any means. 

Early on found a method i liked, courtesy of Judy Rodgers, and most of these 12 chickens fall under that formula, with only small variations, because other chefs and cooks have discovered the genius of it as well. Just over the last 12 months I’ve given you examples with Zuni Chicken, Moroccan(ish) Roast Chicken, Feta Brined Chicken and Lacquered Roast Chicken. The salt source may have varied, and the roasting temperature, but the core method is the same. I’d even argue that the quick cast iron method is a variation on this process too, just taken to the extreme.

So. (Deep Breath)

(I really didn’t plan to have an answer for this, I really thought the answer was “what works best for you.”Buuuuuuut I have strong opinions now after a whole year of making chicken, so here’s what I’m calling the “Roast Chicken Project Approved Method.”)

What's the best way to prep a chicken?

Season your chicken with a good amount of salt, or a good amount of something salty (feta cheese, preserved lemons, soy sauce). Really, it’s all about the salt content, no matter how you deliver it. A well salted bird is a tasty bird. Then, let it chill, literally. Throw that chicken back in the refrigerator, uncovered, for at least 12 hours. Go about your life and let the salt and cold air work their magic. 

What’s the best way to roast a chicken? 

When you are ready to roast, crank your oven to a minimum of 400 degrees, then plop the chicken in the heat and let it be for about an hour. That’s it. Don’t baste it, don’t flip it, don’t touch it. Take it out, let it rest for 20 minutes, then carve and serve. Eat and be happy, you are a domestic goddess (or god).

Superlatives!

Best roast chicken for a weeknight:

Easy Cast Iron Roast Chicken

Don’t want to plan ahead? Have minimal time to get dinner on the table? Bittman’s cast iron shortcut is your best choice! Don’t have a cast iron pan? Do the high heat roasting method sans the overnight stay in the refrigerator. The skin won’t be quite as spectacular but your chicken will still be tasty.

Best roast chicken for a weekend project:

Zuni Cafe Roast chicken

Zuni Roast Chicken! This is quite a production when you add in the bread salad and it does take some pre-planning, but the end result is a spectacular meal worth of a Sunday spent in the kitchen.

Best roast chicken for summertime:

Grilled Roast Chicken

Go outside and grill it! The grilled roast chicken was the most fun discovery of this whole project! When it’s 90 degrees outside you want all cooking done as far away from inside your house as possible, right? This chicken has your answer.

Best roast chicken for a complete dinner:

Beer Can Oven Roasted Chicken

Beer can roast chicken. Sure, the Zuni chicken is technically a complete meal, but the roast veggies at the bottom of the pan in this one make a hearty side as well, and for way less effort.

My favorite roast chickens:

Anything using the dry salt brine and overnight refrigeration with high heat and a relatively quick roasting time. It’s really going to be my go-to method from this point on, it’s so foolproof. I even burned the skin on my last try and still ended up with perfectly done meat, so I’m officially vouching for it. It stands up to finicky ovens and the most basic of seasonings and you can’t go wrong. My second favorite method would be a tie between the two alternative brining sources I used, feta cheese and preserved lemons. In terms of flavor, those two methods really brought something special to the table. And then also chicken in milk is always spectacular. 

That's officially a wrap on the Roast Chicken Project! If you've been along for the duration, thank you for tuning in! Hopefully you've had some fun chicken adventures too! Special thanks to Claire for pinch hitting twice for me, and especially for being brave enough to make what was essentially one giant buffalo wing

As I mentioned on Monday, this is it for a few weeks! I'm taking a much deserved and needed hiatus for about 6 weeks, so see you again in March! When I get back, I have fun plans for 2017, including another project! Hint: this one involves a lot more sugar.

In the meantime, enjoy your Super Bowl feasts and Valentines Day baking and Pi Day pies and green St. Patty's Day creations! 

Two Couscous Salad with Labneh, Broccolini, and Blood Orange

Now, back to recipes that work.

Two Couscous Salad with Labneh

Couscous or cous cous? I have no idea. But I do know there are a few different varieties of couscous, and the one I've recently become a bit obsessed with is Lebanese couscous. I first saw it in a specialty grocery store here in SF, but never bought it because I didn't really know what I would do with it. Then, when I was in Sydney I had it in a salad with small couscous and the contrast of the tiny couscous pearls with the chewier, larger, Lebanese couscous was insanely good. I immediately decided I would buy that Lebanese couscous when I got home and I would make a salad with it and it would be delicious. 

Well, "immediately" became three months later and I finally got around to hunting down the couscous. But as always happens when I specifically want something, the store was out of the Lebanese couscous. I went twice in one weekend hoping they would restock, but each time left disappointed. But I was really craving couscous by this point, so I went to the store and bought some Israeli (or pearl) couscous and decided to just forge ahead anyway. 

I'm so glad I did! I combined both couscouses(?) with tons of green stuff, herbs and broccolini and pistachios, as well as a fun spice blend and some blood oranges and labneh, because I thought that creamy, tangy yogurt/cheese hybrid would pair well with everything yet be a little unexpected. 

And this ROCKED. It's subtly spiced but flavorful, with a ton of contrasting textures between the crunchy pistachios and al dente broccolini and the citrus and the creamy pockets of labneh. It's refreshing with the herbs and the lemon, and the whole thing is a bowl of goodness you can be excited about. 

Just, you know, it would have been 10x better with that Lebanese couscous.

Cous Cous salad components
cous cous and herbs
Two Cous Cous Salad

Two Couscous Salad with Labneh, Broccolini, and Blood Orange

This seems at first like a complicated recipe, but I promise, it's not. Just have your mise an place all ready to go and it's easy!

  • 1 cup instant couscous (this is the small, "regular" couscous)
  • 1/2 cup Israeli couscous (or Lebanese if you can find it)
  • 1/2 cup pistachios
  • 2 1/2 cups broccolini, roughly chopped
  • 2 blood oranges, peeled and segmented
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup mint, chopped
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 tbs olive oil, plus more for broccolini and drizzling
  • 1 tbs butter
  • 1 1/2 tbs baharat (see note)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup labneh
  1. In a pan over medium-high heat, toast the pistachios until fragrant. Remove to a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the broccolini and cook for 2 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon into a bowl of ice water. Drain and set aside.
  3. Heat a kettle or small pot, and bring 2 cups of water to a boil.
  4. Heat two separate pots over medium heat and to each, add 1/2 tbs olive oil, 1/2 tbs butter, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tbs baharat. Add the instant couscous to one pot and the Israeli cous cous to the other. Toast the couscous for a few minutes, until spices and couscous are fragrant. To the instant couscous, add 1 cup of boiling water, cover, and remove from heat. Let sit until ready to use.
  5. To the Israeli couscous, add 3/4 cups boiling water and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes, then let sit off the heat for a few minutes.
  6. While the couscous is cooking, saute the broccolini in a little olive oil until it gets a nice color, about 5 minutes.
  7. In a large bowl, combine both the couscouses and fluff with a fork. Add the herbs and toss with the lemon zest and juice and a little olive oil, about a tsp. Taste and adjust seasoning, then add the broccolini and blood oranges. Garnish with pistachio and labneh and serve.

Notes:

  • This really is manageable to do all at once, though you will be using all stove burners. But if that seems too daunting, the broccolini and couscous can be made ahead and combined later. This salad is delicious warm, room temperature, or cold.
  • Baharat is a spice mix found in middle eastern or specialty grocery stores, and I've seen it at whole foods. You can also make your own with any recipes online. If you want it to be a little more spicy, you can supplement the baharat with another 1/4 tsp or so of hot paprika.