Friday, August 24, 2012

Thomas Keller's Roast Chicken: My version

 Do you see the neck roasting near the chicken? That, my friend, is true 'meat candy,' better than any bacon.

I've been eating meat regularly for slightly less than a year, and I've just realized that I already have a go-to roast chicken.  I use the 450F high-heat Thomas Keller method, as I've mentioned before on this blog, with some new (mostly lazy) modifications.

They say that roast chicken is the ultimate test of every cook.  I know some very accomplished cooks (I'm not counting myself in that number) and all of them have a different method of roasting chicken that they swear by.

I'm not a briner, but I am a salter.   I think because the dark meat and the skin are my favorite parts, I'm not that paranoid about over-cooking the bird.  All I care about is the crispy skin. The more crispy and crackly the better.

I don't wash the chicken, I just try to make sure that it is as dry as possible before going in the oven.

I don't bother to truss, although I do stuff the cavity with fresh thyme and rosemary and I stick a few sprigs in the armpits beneath the wings.  Then I season it, usually with paprika and dried mustard. Some ancho if I'm in the mood.

I roast the chicken (usually I get a 4-5 pound chicken) in a covered roasting pan for longer than Keller suggests. Keller roasts his uncovered,but then again, Keller doesn't have to clean my oven or deal with my smoke alarm. Also, the covered method seems to keep the chicken juicy while still allowing the skin to crisp up.  I'm one of those people who thinks it is well nigh impossible to overcook poultry with bones and skin (anemic skinless chicken breasts are another story, but I never use them).  I've cooked a bird up to 1 hour 45 minutes at high heat and not have the faster-cooking white meat dry out, at least not to my taste.

I've sort of hesitated talking about how I like to roast chicken, because I know it violates 'the rules.' And there are some cooks who INSIST on cooking dark and white meat separately, at different temperatures, for optimal flavor, or spatchcocking, or basting, or using chicken broth, but I never bother.

 I really put this post out more as a question: what is your 'go-to' roast chicken recipe, and what 'rules' do you ALWAYS violate when cooking...chicken...or something else...

My Roast Chicken


1 4-5 pound chicken, giblets removed (I always roast the neck with the bird)
Coarse sea salt
Fresh sprigs of thyme and rosemary
Paprika, dried mustard, ancho chili powder


1. Preheat oven to 450F.  Line covered pan with foil.  Pat dry and heavily salt chicken.

2. Stuff chicken cavity with fresh thyme and rosemary.  Put some sprigs under the skin and under the wings.

3. Season as desired.  Roast until chicken has an internal temperature of at least 165F degrees or until desired doneness. 


  1. When whole chickens are more expensive than their excellent rotisserie chickens, I go for the bargain. Otherwise, I usually beer can it. I keep an empty can and fill it with whatever strikes me as well as herbs. I block the top with a lemon half. I've already rubbed the cavity and skin w/s&p. I often sprinkle the skin w/paprika as my mother always did. Cooked on the grill or in the oven, it's delicious and every bit of skin is crispy. I bought a very cheap fold up holder for the can. I'm with you, the easier it is, the more often you'll enjoy it.

  2. @Unknown--ooh, I forgot about beer can chicken, probably because I don't drink beer. But I have heard of putting a non-alcoholic marinade in the can like you said. I think I will give it a try! My mother also used paprika--it's funny how both of us continue in that tradition!

    Ah, the rotisserie versus whole chicken debate...on average, whole 4-pound chickens run .99 per pound at my supermarket while the rotisserie chickens are around 5-6 bucks for a slightly smaller bird. Time and temperature (outside) are usually the main factors regarding what I decide to buy, although I have finally after a long time gotten to the point where I can make a chicken at home I genuinely prefer to a rotisseire from the supermarket.

  3. I don't usually roast a whole chicken, but when I do, I use the America's Test Kitchen method. Softened butter under the breast skin, a little melted butter brushed on top of the skin, roasted at 375 for 40 minutes, then at 450 for a half-hour or so to crisp the skin. I only use salt and pepper to season because I am oddly purist about roasted chicken (I also don't like candy pieces in my ice cream, but that's another matter). I put water in the bottom of the roasting pan to prevent smoking, but it never occurred to me to use a covered pan. Also, I don't have a covered pan.

    Normally, I just roast chicken legs instead of a whole bird. I brush them with butter and roast at 450 until they reach 170, which takes about 45 minutes. I think it turns out better when the thigh and drumstick are attached, but since I like to have a second drumstick for lunch the next day, I usually buy the cut pieces. I just have to pull the drumsticks out a little early, but even so, I don't think they turn out as moist.

    Rotisserie chickens are great but occasionally you'll get one where the breasts were injected with broth or something to keep them moist and all that does is turn the meat to mush. So I usually only get one when I want real food but I'm really not in the mood to cook.

    As for what rules I always violate, there are probably several but the only one I can think of is when I'm doing stir-fry, I don't bother to cook each vegetable separately. I'll do the meat separately to make sure it's cooked through and then add it back in after the vegetables are done, but seriously no one will die if I cook the broccoli and carrots at the same time.

  4. @flurrious--I will give the ATK version a try! Although I don't agree with everything that they do, quite often ATK does have some good ideas. It was the first cooking show I started watching on TV as an adult, actually.

    I do love the spices I listed but I also consider myself a purist when it comes to chicken--I'm not a big fan of gravy or heavy sauces on chicken. And I totally agree about the candy pieces in ice cream. I loved Haagen Daz peanut butter swirl ice cream back when I could knock back a pint without blinking but always thought that Ben & Jerry's ice cream was completely overrated. To much busyness in the ice cream with all of the add-ins.

    When I don't roast a whole bird, I usually just roast thighs. I'm glad that the majority of the public hasn't discovered the secret of the deliciousness of dark meat, because whole chickens and dark meat are always cheapest.
    Skinless boneless chicken breasts are the most expensive of all, thanks to fat-free paranoia.

    A covered pan might be worth a try--when I first used it, I felt like a bad cook, but it works for me and my oven isn't self-cleaning and I actually do think it improves the flavor although the bird takes longer.

  5. Dirtying up the oven is my main reason for not roasting chicken anymore. I made a roast chicken when we first moved into our house and the grease from the chicken splattered all over my nice, new, oven window! I was traumatized and went back to grilling. I think I'll try your Thomas Keller method, but instead of covering it completely, just make a wall of foil to prevent spattering.

    August 26, 2012 6:00 PM

  6. @Anna--I often think that some recipes should come with little 'warning' labels about the mess they generate. Perhaps along with cooking time, there should be 'cleanup time' estimates with some of them! I first cooked the Keller recipe without covering the chicken, and while awesome it splattered everywhere and set off the smoke detector twice. Covered, the skin still crisps up, it just takes much longer. I would give it a try with the foil! A really good roast chicken is just as tasty as fried chicken, IMO!

  7. I love roasted chicken! I've been craving it!