For whatever reason, roasting a chicken has become a right of passage into the world of people “who like to cook.” This may be because you rarely see them on menus in restaurants, and when you have enjoyed them at home they’re almost always over cooked because people are terrified by raw chicken.
Now I’ll admit, that roasting a chicken really well at home does take a bit of forethought. But the prep-work is as minimal as it gets. I have found, and many will agree, that drying the chicken in the fridge prior to roasting makes all the difference in the world. I prefer to make sure I get in at least 24hrs of drying time, however I have had success with as little as time between breakfast and dinner. My preferred drying time is 2 days.
Now why dry the chicken? This may sound counter intuitive if the main issue you have incurred while roasting at home is a dry chicken. However, your dry chicken is most likely from overcooking, not from this technique I’m going to walk you through. This is a practice that I apply to most protein. Anytime your goal is to get a nice sear or a crispy skin on a cut of meat (i.e. steaks, chops, loins, chickens, etc.) moisture is the enemy. Moisture on the surface results in steamed, grey meat. When searing you're trying to remove moisture to create that crispy, crunchy sensation we all crave. So starting out with a piece of meat that has its most outer layer removed of moisture will ensure that all its time spent in contact with direct heat will result in that golden brown delicious crust we all desire.
This must be read through entirely before deciding to roast a chicken. Not a quick method.
How to prepare to roast a chicken:
Two days before roasting the chicken I will either buy the chicken or make sure it is fully defrosted from my freezer. Remove it from packaging, take the gizzards out of the inside (don’t Immediately throw them away!), and rinse the chicken under cold water. Do NOT trim away the extra skin at the base of the cavity, we will use it later.
After drip drying the chicken as best you can, dry the chicken inside and out with paper towels. Place the chicken on a small rack on top of a plate. This promotes circulation around the entire chicken, and if any moisture does drip the chicken will not be sitting in the liquid. Place the chicken on the rack on a plate on the bottom shelf of your fridge.
Now the next process could change a touch depending on how much time you plan on drying the chicken. If you plan on drying your chicken for more than 24hrs I would do the next step at the halfway point. If you’re only drying for 24hrs or less, don’t worry about it.
Refrigerators at home do not have large fans like restaurant fridges; therefore, you need to encourage circulation around the whole bird. This can be done by simply turning the chicken over so that it is upside down. If you see any accumulation of moisture on what was the underside of the chicken you should pat it dry with a paper towel. A few hours before you plan on roasting the chicken I would flip the chicken right side up to avoid any weird lines you could get from the pressure points of the rack you are drying on.
Roasting the chicken:
A hot oven is key. Start preheating your oven to 425F with a cast iron large enough for your chicken in the oven. Keep the chicken in the fridge while the oven is preheating. Not until the oven is up to temp will you season the chicken.
Once the oven is up to temp, remove the chicken from the fridge and cover in cold butter. Use your hands here and get into it. This should feel naughy in anticipation. I typically use about 4tbsps (½ stick) of butter in this process. It won’t spread easily because you have dried the chicken skin and the butter is cold. Don’t be afraid to use some pressure to spread the butter easily, I promise you won’t hurt the chicken. Salt the chicken. Really go at it again. Four-finger-pinch a ton of salt and sprinkle from a foot above the chicken and repeat. The butter will help catch the salt. Season the whole chicken! Pick it up and season the top, bottom, sides, and the inside cavity. If you can touch it, you can eat it, so salt it!
Trussing a chicken is sworn by some and disavowed by others. Personally, I believe it makes a difference. I also always forget how to truss a chicken with twine and I never have butchers twine at home. SO! I truss the chicken with the chicken. You know the extra fat and skin I told you not to throw away, this is where we use it. With scissors or a paring knife, snip a small hole in both sides of the extra skin/fat. You’re going to cross the skin over to the opposite side drum stick and push it through the whole. Repeat with the other side. Left skin to right drumstick, right skin to left drumstick. This will create a cross on the back of the chicken and pull the drumsticks in tight promoting even cooking throughout the bird. Plus it looks cool when it’s fully cooked.
Now you either put chicken directly in the hot cast iron as is or put it on top of some root veggies like carrots, turnips, rutabaga, and onions (not a root I know). If you elect to use the root veggies, give them a quick toss in a bit of EVOO and salt. If you eat it, you salt it. If you can also add a few sprigs of thyme and half a lemon cut side down, into the cast iron.
Put your chicken in the 425F oven for 50 minutes. Do NOT open the oven to peak at it, keep the heat in the oven. After 50 minutes, I check the temperature of the chicken with a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the breast and the deepest part of the thigh. If the thermometer reads below 150F give it another 15 minutes, between 150-160F 8 minutes more. If the thermometer reads 160F keep the chicken out of the oven to rest. The residual heat will continue cooking the meat as it rests bringing it to the FDA approved 165F.
1 5# chicken
½ stick butter
3 tbsp salt
4 carrots, peeled and halved
1 onion, quartered
1 parsnip, peeled and chopped
2 sprigs of thyme
Salt to taste