So, I come from a food-obsessed family. My mother, a self-taught cook with a love of spicy foods, liked to experiment with exotic cuisines. Our normal home-cooked meals were things like meaty Brazillian feijoada, intricate Indian curries, and southwestern corn cakes with spicy chile-crusted prawns. Classic “American” dishes, though, like pot roast, meatloaf, and fried chicken, were veritable strangers on our table. By the time I flew the coop, I could deftly layer ephemeral phyllo dough into cheesy, rich spanakopita or whip up a Thai coconut milk curry without a recipe, but I had no idea how to approach some of the most basic cooking techniques. Roasting a chicken, for instance, was way outside my milieu. Way.
For years, I went about my business happily cooking up heavily spiced dishes from every corner of the globe. All the while, I’d hear friends talking about how they roasted a chicken on Sunday and used the leftover meat to make all sorts of satisfying dishes—enchiladas, salads, pastas, and soups—throughout the week. As life got busier, what with a family in the mix, that seemed like a great way to maximize my meal preparation efforts. But how? I was at a loss. I tried roasting a few chickens on the fly, but always ended up with dry and/or rubbery meat, and I was never even sure if it was cooked all the way through.
Then a friend pointed me to a super easy, yet amazingly delicious recipe from Thomas Keller (via Epicurious.com). There are only 2 required ingredients (chicken, ideally organic, and kosher salt), but you can add butter, herbs, or spices to your liking. Best thing? It’s freakin’ delicious. Crisp, salty skin; juicy and tender meat. What more could you want?
Armed with that recipe and $10 instant-read digital meat thermometer, I can proudly say that I have mastered roasting a chicken. I have even become the sort of person who roasts a chicken every week and then uses the leftovers in all kinds of delicious ways throughout the week. Now to tackle meatloaf.
Simply Delicious Roast Chicken
Adapted from a recipe by Thomas Keller that appeared on Epicurious.com. I like to salt the chicken a day ahead of time and leave it partially uncovered in the refrigerator until I’m ready to cook it. This draws excess moisture from the skin so that it becomes super crispy when cooked. It also tenderizes the meat, ensuring that your chicken will be moist and delicious all the way through.
1 3-pound chicken, preferably organic
1 tablespoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper (optional)
3 or 4 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
2 to3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (optional)
Rinse the chicken well, inside and out, under cold water. Use paper towels to dry it very well, again, inside and out. Sprinkle the salt all over the chicken (it may seem like a lot of salt, but just trust me and go with it). Sprinkle pepper over the chicken, if using. Truss the chicken, if desired (Trussing is actually quite simple and keeps the chicken from drying out during cooking and also gives you a nice looking bird to present to your guests, but it is totally optional. Click here for a good video on how to truss a chicken.) Partially wrap the chicken in paper (I use the paper that the chicken came from the butcher in) and place it in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours and as long as 24 hours (the longer the better).
Preheat the oven to 450° Fahrenheit. Place the chicken, breast side down, in a roasting pan and cook, uncovered, in the preheated oven. Do not baste it or turn it or otherwise mess with it. Just let it be. Cook the chicken for 50 to 60 minutes, until your instant-read meat thermometer reads 165º Fahrenheit when inserted into the thickest part of the breast. Remove it from the oven and add the thyme sprigs, if using, to the pan. Using a spoon, scoop up the juices from the bottom of the pan and pour them over the chicken. If using butter, scatter the pieces over the hot chicken and let it melt. Let the chicken rest for 15 minutes or so before carving.
Carve the chicken as you like and serve warm. Store leftovers in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.