Every home cook should know how to make the perfect roast chicken. It’s one of the cheapest and easiest ways to make dinner—marinade everything, then let the oven do all the work—and yet, if done well, is “classy” enough for dinner parties or special family get-togethers.
You can find thousands of recipes for roast chickens that cover all cuisines of the world. However, these tips will help you get the perfect roast, whatever recipe you pick. The chicken stays moist, the meat is flavorful, and the skin is golden and succulent.
1. Get the tools
You need a large roasting pan that will comfortably fit the chicken and leave room for other vegetables. Some women recommend using a very shallow pan, since this allows heat to circulate well. That results in crispy skin and minimizes the need to “turn” the bird.
Others recommend a V-shaped rack which lifts the chicken so that the entire skin browns, and the juices are allowed to evaporate and caramelize (the result: amazing flavors for your gravy!).
You should also have a large bowl where you can mix any ingredients for stuffing, and a good, sharp pair of kitchen shears (which cuts chicken for serving much more effectively than a carving knife).
2. Thaw the chicken properly.
It’s best to thaw your chicken the night before, placing it in the refrigerator so it can reach the right temperature by the time you’re ready to cook dinner. Don’t thaw chicken on a kitchen counter (you’re risking salmonella) and dumping the chicken into a water to fast-track the defrosting process loses some of its flavor.
Oh, and another safety tip: to prevent food contamination, cut raw and cooked chicken on two different cutting boards, with two different knives.
3. Marinade for several hours.
The best roast chicken is so flavorful that the spices and ingredients seem to have penetrated right through the skin. To get this, you need to marinade the chicken as long as you can (the recipes usually indicate the ideal time). Rub the spices under the chicken breast skin. You may also want to invest in a industrial-grade needle that lets you inject flavors right into the chicken. You can find these tools in kitchen supply stores. However, you’ll need to puree marinade ingredients into a very thin liquid.
4. Flavor from the inside out.
Don’t just marinade the chicken skin. Try to get as much of the seasoning into the chicken cavity. You may even want to leave a few whole cloves of garlic or sprigs of herbs right there—it really helps to boost the flavor, not just of the chicken but the juices that will seep out and eventually become the base for your gravy.
5. Butter it up.
Another approach is to keep the marinade really simple and just rub the chicken with soft, unsalted butter, pepper and salt. This makes the skin a lovely golden brown. As with step 3 and 4, try to get some of the butter and seasonings under the skin of the chicken breast and into the cavity.
6. Go and stuff it.
If a recipe calls for stuffing, insert it into the chicken just before you’re ready to roast. This prevents any contamination from contact with the raw chicken juice.
7. Skip the trussing.
Some recipes call for trussing, or tying the drumsticks and wings close to the body of the chicken. This takes way too much time, prevents the skin from browning, and causes the chicken to cook unevenly (the dark meat will take longer to cook, so the breast dries out before the rest of it’s done).
8. Heat: your secret ingredient
At the right temperature, your chicken will be thoroughly cooked without losing any of its moisture. First set your oven to about 450°F for about 15 to 20 minutes, which will make the skin crispy and give that characteric “roasted” taste. Then, lower heat to about 375°F for the remainder of the cooking time recommended in the recipe.
Some recipes call for basting birds in marinades to prevent drying out. This is only necessary for chickens that are less then three pounds.
9. Timing is everything.
Take care not to overcook your children. However, that every oven has its own quirks, so don’t take the time in recipes as Bible truth. You’ll have to study exactly how long it takes to reach a particular temperature and how well it maintains it. (Do that by repeating one roast chicken dish for several times, adjusting cooking length and temperature, and taking notes.)
You also need to factor in the other ingredients. If the recipe calls for other ingredients, such as potatoes or mushrooms, the chicken will take longer to cook because of everything else crowding the pan.
9. Check for doneness.
Prick the though with a fork or metal skewer. The chicken is ready if the juices run clear. Try wriggling the drumsticks, too (it should easily come off the sockets). If you have a thermometer, stick it into the thigh bone. It should 170°
10. Let it rest – and go make the gravy.
After removing the chicken from the oven, cover the pan with foil and let it rest for about 10 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to get going. Some cooks actually prop the roast on its legs (the back side up) so that the juices flow back to the breast meat.
While you do that, collect the pan juices (including the bits of chicken that have encrusted on the pan. You may want to remove the fat but leave a little bit—it adds to the flavor). Scrape off every last bit of flavor from the pan by pouring wine, cognac or sherry (a technique called “deglazing.”)
Pour into a pot and then add chicken stock. Set the oven to high heat. Reduce the mixture until the sauce is silky enough to stick to the back of a spoon. Some cooks recommend a second reductionL add another 2 cups of stock, and boil it again until it’s evaporated into 2/3 cup. Flavor with herbs and cream.