Recipe: Thomas Keller's Simple Roast Chicken
To start 2019, we’re going back to basics. Starting with a simple roast chicken, we’re poring over techniques that should be in the back pocket of every home chef. These are the easily repeatable, never-out-of-style preparations for the most familiar proteins in our culinary wheelhouses.
While the oven-roasted chicken requires relatively few steps (and even fewer ingredients), you won’t be alone expressing frustration around never being able to nail the perfect roast. There are a number of factors in play. The very lean (white meat) portions of the bird not only dry out immediately upon reaching temperature (with no fat to moisten). For a double-whammy of complication, those white meat portions actually cook faster than the dark meat portions, again because of the lack of fat.
To tackle the roadblocks brought on by the troublesome white meat, we have a playbook. First, to combat extended cook time which will dry out the white meat, we cook at a very high temperature (450°F) so that the chicken will not be exposed to heat for longer than absolutely necessary. Second, we truss the chicken, in a sense to imitate a larger roast, so that the entire bunch of meat will cook more evenly than a splayed out, untrussed bird would.
Don’t Forget to Save Scraps!
While we’re taking the time to cook this beautiful bird, we want to make sure we make the most of the finished product. Once the cooked bird has been cleaned of its delectable meat, make sure to have some mirepoix vegetables around (celery, carrot, and onion) as well as your favorite spices. Combine all ingredients in a stock pot with enough water to cover the carcass, and allow to simmer at low temperature for several hours. Now you have a beautiful bone broth with all of the flavors developed through the length of the chicken roast, a fine foundation for soups of all kinds, including our three favorite takes on chicken soup.
Thomas Keller’s Roasted Chicken
For mastery, we’re looking to Thomas Keller, perhaps the nation’s greatest chef, known for The French Laundry (Yountville, CA) and Per Se (New York, NY). His recipe keeps things as simple as possible, with beautiful results. Check out a video of his preparation here.
Recipe by Thomas Keller, posted on Epicurious
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons minced thyme (optional)
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Rinse the chicken, then dry it very well with paper towels, inside and out. The less it steams, the drier the heat, the better.
Salt and pepper the cavity, then truss the bird. Trussing is not difficult, and if you roast chicken often, it's a good technique to feel comfortable with. When you truss a bird, the wings and legs stay close to the body; the ends of the drumsticks cover the top of the breast and keep it from drying out. Trussing helps the chicken to cook evenly, and it also makes for a more beautiful roasted bird.
Now, salt the chicken—I like to rain the salt over the bird so that it has a nice uniform coating that will result in a crisp, salty, flavorful skin (about 1 tablespoon). When it's cooked, you should still be able to make out the salt baked onto the crisp skin. Season to taste with pepper.
Place the chicken in a sauté pan or roasting pan and, when the oven is up to temperature, put the chicken in the oven. I leave it alone—I don't baste it, I don't add butter; you can if you wish, but I feel this creates steam, which I don't want. Roast it until it's done, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove it from the oven and add the thyme, if using, to the pan. Baste the chicken with the juices and thyme and let it rest for 15 minutes on a cutting board.
Remove the twine. Separate the middle wing joint and eat that immediately. Remove the legs and thighs. I like to take off the backbone and eat one of the oysters, the two succulent morsels of meat embedded here, and give the other to the person I'm cooking with. But I take the chicken butt for myself. I could never understand why my brothers always fought over that triangular tip—until one day I got the crispy, juicy fat myself. These are the cook's rewards. Cut the breast down the middle and serve it on the bone, with one wing joint still attached to each. The preparation is not meant to be super elegant. Slather the meat with fresh butter. Serve with mustard on the side and, if you wish, a simple green salad. You'll start using a knife and fork, but finish with your fingers, because it's so good.