Circle of Chicken Part 1: Perfect Roast Chicken

Do you love food? Are you ready to eat something delicious, easy, and cheap, and then take the leftovers and make several other delectable dishes? Then you, my friend, are ready to enter the Circle of Chicken. Come with me.

The Circle of Chicken begins, of course, with the chicken. Perfect Roast Chicken.

But before we get started, I need to tell you something important: you’re going to need to trust me about this recipe. It’s going to seem too simple to be really delicious, and too easy to actually be fun to make. There’s no butter, no herbs, no lemon tucked inside this chicken. But the simple fact remains that it’s still the best roast chicken you’ll ever eat.

This is adapted from the superb roast chicken recipe from Thomas Keller, founder of the world-famous French Laundry restaurant, and lauded as one of the best chefs in America. (If you ever have the chance, make sure to read The Soul of a Chef, a fascinating look at Keller, who is largely self-taught.) As he explains, the perfect roast chicken has a crisp, crackly skin. To get this, you need your chicken to start dry, and stay dry–adding moisture, which includes things like butter, herbs, and citrus–will cause your chicken to steam instead.

So let’s get started. For Perfect Roast Chicken, you need:

One chicken (I tend to use the 5- to 6-pound size)
1-2 tablespoons Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

I take it one step further and add red potatoes–something Keller would probably disapprove of. I do it for two reasons: one, the potatoes absorb the rendered chicken fat, becoming unbelievably luscious while developing a crunchy exterior, and two, I believe having something in the pan to absorb said fat and juices keeps my oven from getting smoky while roasting at such a high temperature.

For this addition, you need:

Red potatoes, cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch chunks (as many as will fit comfortably in your pan in one layer around the chicken)
Extra-virgin olive oil

So let’s get started. Here’s the chicken I cooked tonight, an ordinary variety found at the grocery store. It was on sale for $.99 per pound:

Perfect Roast Chicken

An hour or two before roasting time, remove your chicken from the refrigerator to allow it to come at least partway to room temperature. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Remove your chicken from its packaging, and stick your hand into the cavity to take out the chicken neck and any other innards. Toss the liver (unless you have use for it), and reserve the rest to make chicken stock (Part 2 of the Circle of Chicken).

Pat your chicken dry inside and out, and place on your roasting pan breast-side down. For whatever reason, I still do not own a roasting pan, so I use a cookie sheet, which gives me the additional benefit of more room for potatoes. Pour at least half a tablespoon of Kosher salt into your palm. Sprinkle it on the chicken, then rub it into the skin. Don’t be afraid–in addition to making things salty, salt brings out the natural flavors of the food. In such a simple dish, the proper amount of salt will bring it to its fullest potential.

Chicken3Chicken2

Grind pepper over your chicken, and then turn breast side up. Repeat the salting and peppering, and then truss your chicken.

Lightly oil the pan around the chicken, and then add your potatoes, making sure to position them cut-side down (they’ll get crispy and delicious). Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Chicken5

Roast for 50 minutes, then check with a meat thermometer in the thick part of the thigh. Exactly 50 minutes is usually perfect for me, bringing the meat to 160 degrees F. Remove from the oven, let rest 15-20 minutes, then carve and serve. YUMMMM. You now have tender, succulent, flavorful meat covered with a crisp, delicious skin.

Chicken6

A chicken of this size will feed at least five people, with about two cups of meat left over (to continue the Circle of Chicken).

Wasn’t that easy? And delicious? But we’re not done yet. Once dinner is over, grab all those bones (even the ones on people’s plates) and put them in the refrigerator for Part 2 of the Circle of Chicken: Golden Chicken Broth of Happiness. I just made that name up. We’ll talk tomorrow.

Questions, comments, suggestions? Post them below!

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