Every home cook should have a no-fail recipe for roasted chicken, one you can count on to always deliver golden skin and well cooked, moist, flavorful meat. So what’s the secret? Well, there are several:
Buy Smaller Chickens
Smaller chickens – those weighing 4 1/2 pounds (2 kg) or less – cook fast and evenly, resulting in moister meat. Unfortunately, many stores only sell whole chickens that weigh 5 pounds (2.5 kg) or more. However, if you get stuck with a big chicken, pre-seasoning can help.
Pre-Season the Bird
No matter what size of bird you have, salting a chicken in advance will make the meat (especially the white meat) more flavorful and tender. Ideally, salt the chicken 24 hours ahead of time, but even a few hours can make a difference.
As a general guideline, use 1/2 (2.5 ml) to 3/4 teaspoon (4 ml) of kosher salt per pound. Don’t rub the salt directly onto the meat; only rub it on the skin and sprinkle some in the cavity. For extra flavor, add any of your favorite spices to the salt mix and/or tuck fresh herbs under the skin.
Dry Skin = Crispy Skin
If you love crispy, crackling skin then moisture is the enemy. According to the USDA, there is no need to rinse a chicken before cooking it. Take the bird out of its packaging and pat the chicken dry really well with paper towels. Consider keeping the chicken uncovered in a refrigerator overnight (after salting it) which helps dry the skin further, then pat the bird dry again before putting it in the oven. Rubbing butter or oil on the skin can create moisture that prevents crisping up. And don’t baste the chicken while it roasts.
Don’t Roast a Cold Bird
Let the chicken rest on the counter for 30 minutes before putting it in the oven. A cold chicken directly from the refrigerator won’t cook evenly.
Use High Heat
Roasting a bird in a 475 ºF (246 ºC) or 500 ºF (260 ºC) oven might seem crazy (and will create a little bit of smoke) but the results are reliably stunning; crisp skin and moist meat. Roasting at lower temperatures just prolongs the cooking process, making dry or even undercooked meat more likely.
Use a Thermometer
You’ll always pull the bird out at the right time if you know exactly what the temperature is. Inserted into the thigh, the thermometer should read 165 ºF. (74 ºC)
Follow the tips above or the recipe below and you’ll roast a perfect chicken every time.
Serves: 3 to 4
Time in the Kitchen: 10 minutes of prep and approximately 1 hour of cooking time (plus 24 hours to pre-salt the bird)
One 3 to 5 pound chicken (1.4 kg to 2.3 kg)
8 fresh sage leaves or sprigs of fresh thyme
Kosher salt (1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon per pound) (2.5 ml to 4 ml)
Black pepper (1/2 teaspoon or more) (2.5 ml)
Add additional spices or herbs if desired
Remove everything from the chicken cavity and cut off the clump of tail fat right outside of the cavity. Thoroughly pat the chicken dry.
Use your fingers to loosen little pockets of skin over each breast and thigh so the skin separates from the meat. Tuck 2 sage leaves/thyme sprigs into each pocket of loose skin so the herbs are touching the meat.
Mix together the salt and pepper (and other spices) and rub all over the bird. Season the breasts more heavily than other parts of the bird. Sprinkle a little bit of salt and pepper in the cavity.
Loosely cover the chicken with a large paper towel or leave it uncovered. Refrigerate the chicken for 24 hours.
Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and pat it dry again. Let it come to room temperature for 30 minutes. Tuck the wing tips in or cut them off.
Preheat the oven to 500 ºF (260 ºC). Place a rack on the second level from the bottom.
Put the chicken in a roasting pan or cast iron skillet breast side up. Slide the pan into the oven so the legs are in the back of the oven. This is so the legs/thighs, which take longer to cook, are in the hottest part of the oven (the back).
Roast the chicken for 10 minutes then give the bird a shove with a spoon or spatula to loosen it from the pan so it doesn’t stick.
For the remaining roasting time, don’t open the oven door or disturb the bird. Keep your oven fan on and plan to open a window, as roasting at 500 ºF does cause a little smoke.
Plan to roast the bird for 10 minutes per pound (50 minutes for a 5 pound chicken) and then check the temperature. When the temperature near a thigh is 165 ºF (74 ºC), the chicken should be done.
Carefully remove the pan from the oven, watching out for hot grease.
Remove the chicken from the roasting pan, pouring any juices that have accumulated in the cavity back into the pan.
Let the chicken rest on a cutting board or plate for at least ten minutes before cutting into it.
Add a little bit of water or chicken stock to the roasting pan or skillet and bring it to a simmer on the stove, scraping the bottom of the pan to release any bits stuck to the bottom. Simmer the liquid to reduce it by half before serving it as a sauce for the chicken.