Roast chicken. It's tasty! It’s economical! It’s really easy to make! How can you possibly go wrong?
Apparently, a million different ways. For starters, it isn’t always so easy, especially if you are dealing with a fussy oven, so-so quality chicken, and a lack of confidence. It’s economical if you buy the cheap, factory chicken on sale at the supermarket, but if you go to your higher end grocery store and shell out for the finest free-range, al fresco life-loving chicken you can find, a whole chicken can actually be quite expensive. Then there is the question of how to roast your chicken. There are so many "perfect" roast chicken recipes out there! The New York Times cooking section alone has 329 results for roast chicken, and I knew better than to even try to google the topic. Just thinking of all the methods I've personally tried, I can come up with high heat roasting, low heat roasting, roasting in milk, roasting in cast iron, roasting whole, or roasting in pieces. Then there's spatchcocking, roasting under a brick, beer can roasting, rotisserie roasting, etc.
And what happens once I finally choose a cooking style? These various methods bring up even more questions about prep. Should I brine? If so, do I wet brine or dry brine? What about trussing? Do I really need to sew up the ankles crossed like a proper lady or can I let my chicken manspread? Should I let the skin dry out overnight or can I roast it straight from the package? And what goes inside? Do I shove a lemon up the butt and call it a day or do I need more in there? And once I’ve roasted it, what can I do with the leftovers? The questions never seem to end.
But! There is hope! I present to you The Roast Chicken Project! This new monthly series will hopefully help me (and you) answer some of these endless questions. To me, the obvious answer to the question of "What is the best way to make chicken?" is that there probably isn't a best way, but there are ways that will work better for me than others, or plain won't work. This year, I want to take a deep dive and explore a few of the different methods that are out there, and find out what a “perfect roast chicken” means in my own kitchen, or if it even exists. Hopefully, I’ll improve my chicken skills along the way. By next March, I want to confidently roast a chicken without fear. I want to know where exactly to check the internal temperature. I want to know how to carve a roast chicken. I want to know for sure when I'm accidentally roasting one upside down (yep, I’ve done that). I’ve got a few different methods and recipes already planned, and I’m even pulling in some reinforcements to help! Please join in along the way! Comment and share your own roast chicken adventures on Instagram and Facebook with #theroastchickenproject and let’s do this thing!
Roast Chicken #1 – Julia Child's Roast Chicken
Today, I'm starting off the project with a classic version of roast chicken, from the classical French cooking guru herself, Julia Child. I decided to begin with Julia because, despite how exacting her recipes are, they are so well-tested and researched you are guaranteed to end up with exactly what you are trying to make, as long as you follow them to the letter. Her roast chicken would therefore be the most "traditional" version I could find.
I have to say, this is also probably the fussiest roast chicken method I've ever tried, although it seems Julia was well aware. As she writes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking,
"While it does not require years of training to produce a juicy, brown, buttery, crisp-skinned, heavenly bird, it does entail such a greed for perfection that one is under compulsion to hover over the bird, listen to it, above all see that it is continually basted, and that it is done just to the proper turn."
No kidding. I'm in agreement that this method created a pretty damn fantastic chicken, but I felt compelled to stand next to my oven for about 90 minutes, and that's not what I would call "hand's off." The near constant flipping and basting requires a lot more dedication, but Julia's not wrong in that you do end up with a very brown, buttery, and crisp-skinned bird. I'm not sure that it was any more crispy than other birds I've cooked though, or so much better that I'll continue her method in the future. It's tasty, yes, but maybe not my "perfect" method.
To make Julia's roast chicken:
1 whole chicken (3-4 lbs)
3/4 tsp salt, divided
6 Tbs salted butter, softened, divided
1 small carrot, chopped
1 small onion, sliced
1 Tbs olive oil
1/2 Tbs minced shallot
1 cup chicken broth
more salt and pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Sprinkle 1/4 tsp of salt inside the cavity of the chicken and then rub 1 tbs of the butter inside the chicken. Truss the chicken and pat the outside dry. Rub all over with another Tbs of the butter.
- Place the chicken breast side up in a roasting pan (a v-shaped rack is best here) and scatter the carrot and onion around the bottom. Melt 2 Tbs of the butter with the oil in a small sauce pan. Put the chicken in the preheated oven and roast for 5 minutes, then turn the chicken onto one side and baste with the butter and oil mixture. Roast another 5 minutes then flip the chicken onto the opposite side and baste again, then roast another 5 minutes, for 15 total minutes in this initial browning stage.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and roast another 30 minutes, basting every 10 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, salt then chicken and then flip onto it's other side. Roast for another 30 minutes, again basting every 10 minutes.
- 15 minutes before the end of roasting time, salt the chicken again and flip it so that it is breast side up.
- When done roasting, remove from oven and place on a plate or cutting board to rest for 10-15 minutes.
- Remove vegetables from the pan and pour out all but 2 Tbs of juices. Add in the minced shallot and cook for about a minute, then add the chicken broth and boil until reduced by half. Remove from heat and stir in 1 or 2 Tbs of the butter.
- Carve the chicken and pour a little bit of the sauce on top of the chicken and serve the rest on the side.
- Make sure you use an insulated roasting pan, and one that can also be used on the stove top. I improvised with a baking dish and a roasting rack, but my veggies got a little dark and I lost all the good bits from the sauce by not making it in the roasting pan.
- My instructions are for a chicken that is closer to 4 lbs than 3, so if you have a smaller chicken, adjust times accordingly. According to Julia, a 3 lb chicken should take 70-80 minutes, and a 4 lb chicken 75-90 minutes.
- Make sure you use salted butter. I was initially concerned that the recipe did not call for enough salt, but after reading through Julia's cookbook, I realized that she calls for salted butter in most cases, and so that is what I used here.