I‘ve had a string of failures in the kitchen lately, new recipes, all of them. There was the savoury tart with pastry so short that it collapsed into crumbs when cut, the new method for making ricotta that produced dry and rubbery curds, and the hazelnut and blueberry cake I baked for dinner with friends that seriously damaged my reputation in the cake department. Saddest of all, despite carefully planning a romantic dinner for a stay-at-home date night, all I managed to serve up was an over-cooked leg of lamb and soupy chocolate pudding (we still ate it, but it wasn’t exactly the culinary seduction I had imagined). Enough experimentation! After all this failure, I wanted a recipe that was tried and true. Enter: roast chicken.
I’m not assuming that any of you needs a recipe for roasting chicken. It’s just chicken, seasoning, a little fat, a hot oven and enough time to turn the juices from bloody to clear – that’s really the only bit you need to get right; beyond that, everyone tends to have their own method. For the longest time I roasted chickens in a moderate oven, basting with juices and wine every 20 minutes. It was a bit fussy and I had to hover in the kitchen, but I was perfectly happy going through life like this until the day I read about Molly Wizenberg’s preferred technique. Intrigued, I gave it a whirl, and the rest, as they say, is history.
There is no going back when you learn a new technique. My roast chicken had been perfectly edible, but in my quest for crispy skin I often produced dry meat, despite all that basting. When I followed Molly’s instructions, not only did I get a flavoursome, tender, juicy roast, but the chicken was also covered in golden, crispy skin. It was, and remains, roast chicken nirvana. (An equally enlightening moment was learning that mushrooms are best fried in a completely dry pan. Sauté them until their water is released and cooks off and only then add butter or liquid. Try it; it’s a revelation.)
Looking back at Molly’s post now, I can see that I have settled into my own interpretation of some of the finer details, but the points on which I am unwavering are, first, the practice of seasoning the bird inside and out before letting it rest for 24-48 hours. Yes it does take forward planning, but it’s this gentle brining process that is responsible for the soft, succulent meat. Second, the chicken must be roasted at a very high temperature and flipped over twice during its time in the oven. This creates an even roast over the entire chicken and lets the juices run down into the naturally drier breast meat.
To go with this chicken I made Nigel Slater’s Root Vegetable Tangle (via Lucy at Nourish Me). I don’t like cluttering up the oven with another tray of roasting vegetables, taking heat and air flow away from the chicken. The advantage of Nigel’s Tangle, is that it can be prepared ahead and slipped into the oven the second that you take the chicken out. The finely shaved vegetables will cook and crisp in the time it takes you to rest and carve the chicken (and make gravy, if you are so inclined – I’m not). Cooking truly doesn’t get much better (or more reliable) than this.
(And because I just can’t stop myself from trying new recipes, I used the bones and carcass of the chicken to make bone broth for the first time, using this method. The broth was tasty (win!) but it made our house smell like a soup pot (not good). After two days of being enveloped in a funky haze of chicken-scent we gave up on the idea of “perpetual soup”. Reality is such a let-down sometimes.)
Best Roast Chicken
1 whole chicken, small-medium size
2 Tbsp butter
2 & 1/2 tsp fine salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
Zest of 1 small lemon
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp fresh rosemary leaves
Wash the chicken inside and out with cold water then dry thoroughly with paper towels. Place on a baking tray or in a roasting pan.
Remove the zest of the lemon and pound in a mortar and pestle along with the garlic and rosemary. Add half of the butter, 1 tsp of the salt and half the pepper to the herbs and mash together to combine. Spread this mixture inside the cavity, pressing into the bones to ensure the herbs stick to the cavity.
Mix the remaining butter, salt and pepper together and spread over the exterior of the chicken. Rub and massage the seasoning into the meat, then cover the chicken with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24-48 hours.
Take the chicken out of the fridge one hour before you want to cook it. Heat the oven to 220°C / 430°F. Place the chicken in the oven, breast side up and roast for 20 minutes. Take the chicken out and, using two long forks, flip the chicken over. Place it back in the oven for 20 minutes, then take it out and flip it over again. Roast for a final 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and rest for 15-20 minutes before carving.