There is a beautiful simplicity to the perfect roast chicken. The browned, crispy skin that everyone, even the most health-minded of guests, fights over. The flavorful, meltingly tender meat that hardly even requires a knife, shredding under the pull of a fork. In many kitchens, a chef’s worth is judged largely on their ability to roast a whole chicken. It is a task that seems so simple, but perfection is difficult to achieve.
Believe me, I’ve tried. I roast a chicken once or twice a month, and I think I’ve only 100% nailed it once. (Granted, I am a perfectionist, so I am probably more judgmental of my own cooking than I need to be.)
My chickens have been fine; they’re never dry, but they often don’t have a ton of flavor. I’ve tried seasoning the outside, but that just makes the skin more delicious, not the meat itself. I’ve tried stuffing the cavity with herbs or halved lemons or garlic, but I’ve never actually noticed a difference in the flavor (am I the only one?). I’ve slid little pats of butter or rubbed olive oil under the skin, and while it added a little flavor, the clouds didn’t part when I took my first bite of chicken or anything.
So I’m continuing my quest for a perfectly cooked, very flavorful roast chicken. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
- Let the chicken rest on the counter for 30-45 minutes before roasting, to “take the chill off.” Otherwise, your chicken won’t cook through evenly.
- Pat the raw chicken dry, both inside and out, with paper towels before seasoning and roasting. If it is still wet, the skin will steam rather than browning and crisping.
- In my experience, stuffing the cavity with citrus or herbs or garlic doesn’t make a big difference. Am I missing something?
- Lay the chicken on top of either a roasting rack or a bed of chopped root vegetables to allow air to circulate while it roasts. This way, the chicken will cook evenly.
- Leave the skin on while roasting. You can remove it afterwards if you’d like (though I don’t recommend it!), but the skin helps keep the meat from drying out.
- Roast until the temperature of the thickest part of the thigh reads 165F. Some people will tell you 175F, but the temperature will keep increasing as the chicken rests, and the too-high temperatures will make the meat dry.
- Let the roasted chicken rest for 10-15 minutes before carving. This allows all the juices to redistribute evenly through the meat. If you carve too early, the juices will run onto the plate instead of staying in the chicken, making the meat too dry.
- Know where your chicken comes from. Talk to your farmer at the market and find out how the birds were raised and what they were fed. It may not make a huge difference flavor-wise, but it makes a difference ethically.
And here are some of my favorite roast chicken recipes: