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Apr 11, 2002 12:23 PM

perfect roast chicken -to rack or not, truss or not, butterfly?

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I am on a quest that is making me miserable. I'm trying to roast chicken that can beat the great roast chicken at the vendors all around me in Manhattan (in less than four blocks I can buy great whole chicken for about $7 dollars from chicky's or food emporium.

Should I just give up and decide they win and it's not worth the effort? Then what happens when I move away from Manhattan and can't get it any longer...

Can anyone share with me your recipes and tell me why you

1) use a rack, do not use a rack
2) truss your chicken, do not truss
3) brine just with salt and water or add sugar/herbs/wine/etc.
4) get better results butterflying your chicken?
5) does a rotisserie really make that much difference?

Thank you!


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  1. I myself have been on a recent quest of sorts to discover the perfect roast chicken method. I have no firm conclusions yet, as there are so many variables (from the quality of chicken, to the quality of wine that accompanies it) and even the very same recipe can result in quite different results. But, what I am coming around to accepting is the method proposed by Barbara Kafka in here book Roasting. Her basic premise is that everything should be roasted at 500 degrees. Also, she is adamantly against trussing. Furthermore, she does not think a bird needs to be either turned or placed on a rack. Her recipe is simplicity itself and I tend to agree in my experimentation that it results in an excellent roasted chicken. I had long wished to know how to truss, and over the last year and became, if I may say, a very able trusser. I am proud when someone's in the kitchen and I can studiously/casually bust out some twine and tie the bird. But, as Kafka points out, you are simply making more difficult to cook the problematic part of the bird and the common result is overcooked breast meat. Thus, I no longer truss. As far as a rack is concerned, I've never used on nor I have I ever seen the need to (unless, I suppose, you're fastidious about avoiding fat, in which case you shouldn't be eating the skin and then what's the point anyway).

    There is a trick that I use to insure crispy skin, and that is to start the chicken on a skillet and sear it for 5 minutes per side before placing it in the oven. I think this makes a big difference. Basting, I've found often results in less crispy skin.

    The simplest way is to stuff the cavity with a cut lemon, salt, pepper and any herd that pleases you, and then to rub the skin with salt and place it in a very hot oven until done. Alternately, I do make a rub with, say, tarragon and shallots and butter and salt, and rub this under the skin and then process the same. One delicious and decadent version is to simply sauté the skin in a skillet with some butter and salt, place the bird in the oven and begin roasting. After 15 minutes, split some quality vanilla pods and scrape out the seeds; rub the seeds along the breasts and around the whole bird and continue roasting until done. Re-rub the seeds once before finished. This is insanely good, and it's unlikely that your neighborhood roaster is doing this.

    Separately, for along time I had my chicken with red wine. I have now been reformed and enjoy the glories of a flinty Chardonnay with it. A top pouilly fuisse makes an amazing compliment.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Fidelixi

      I'm going to give your technique a try. I also often put lemon, an herb and usually garlic in the cavity unless using a bread stuffing.

      Generally I start in a 425f hot oven (and always for duck), but I reduce it a bit in the middle, then bring the temp up again at the end to brown the breast skin. You way is simpler if it works as well for me.

      I will definitely try the vanilla treatment. Sounds great.

      1. re: saucyknave

        I bought a capon instead of a chicken today. I've never had capon before, but I've heard raves. Actually, I'd never even heard the word spoken aloud. The chicken lady just stared at me when I asked for a "Cap-OHN". I tried again, "You know, a 'Cap-On'." I got another blank stare. Finally I just pointed.

        "Oh," she said. "you want a "Kay-PAWN."

        It's roasting right now, and I'll let you know how it turns out. I brined it for 3 hours and then dried it all over with paper towels and let it sit uncovered in the fridge for 2 more hours. It's important to have dry skin in order for it to come out crispy.

        EDIT: We just finished dinner. The bird was the best I've ever eaten. Like chicken, but with a richer, cleaner flavor.

        1. re: Lindsay B.

          i roast at 425, first on one side, then on the other side, then breast up. if i think the bird needs it, i crank the heat up for the last 15 minutes to put more of a crisping on the skin.

          i use a cast iron skillet with no rack. i put rosemary, thyme, and two pods of garlic in the pan with the bird. i cut the top off the garlic to make squeezing out the roast garlic easier.

          i read somewhere that if you let the bird rest breast side down on a slightly inclined rack (tail side up) that the juices run back into the breast meat. this has worked for me twice and the breast meat was the best i've ever had. not sure why this trick isn't 100%. i assume different birds, different degrees of doneness, etc.

          i pour the fat off the pan, deglaze it with water. i squeeze in some of the garlic too (the rest goes in mashed potatoes)

          i don't truss.

          that said, being a dark meat fan, my favorite way to roast chicken is to debone a leg/thigh, stuff it with mushroom duxelles and roast it. deboning is a bit of work, but it can be done in advance and it elimitates the grisly bits that some folks can't handle.

      2. re: Fidelixi

        I currently swear by the Barbara Kafka method of roasting. I rub mine with a little cinnamon like a good Lebanese girl as well as stuff it with garlic. I'll have to try your skin browning method. Sounds lovely.

        1. re: Fidelixi

          This sounds absolutely scrummy. I have a 4 pound d'artagnan chicken brining away in my refrigerator waiting to be dried and cooked tonight.

          I'll be trying your method tonight!



          1. re: Fidelixi

            I am wholeheartedly in favor of the stovetop brown (although I find it usually takes 7-10 minutes per side). I first came across this in Tom Colicchio's book - Think Like a Chef (as a side note, this book is outstanding for techniques). I find that you can get a crispy skin if you baste infrequently and only after the first half hour or so of oven roast.

            The vanilla thing sounds good, too. I'll have to try that.

          2. My first suggestion is to read the Cook's Illustrated recipe for roast chicken as they go into all their reasons for doing what they do. It will give you a good sense of the process and consequences of making one decision rather than another. If you're an emerging cook, it will be worth the $30 investment to subscribe to their website which will give you access to all their archived materials. You can text file onto your own harddrive anything that you think you will want to make and have the recipe right there whenever you want it. It's very useful to print it out when you go to cook it.

            Second, there's no single answer we can give to what you will like. Butterflying, browning under a weight and then finishing in the oven will give a good result. So will roasting it in the oven from the start. Some people have success in trussing, browning and putting into the oven, others just put it in the oven. Your best bet is to experiment with these techniques to see which you like best. Fortunately chicken is one of the less expensive meats.

            Third, most of what we commonly (incl me) buy to roast for our 1-2 person households are not roasting chickens. A real roasting chicken will be bigger, heavier, and may require more time than the approximations I am giving.

            Fourth, I suggest you buy organic, or at least free range and hormone free (not all of which are also organic) birds. This will mean that your chicken will not be much cheaper than the pre-roasted $7. chickens you buy. But I believe these hormones and antibiotics injected into our foods are very bad for us.

            Fifth, Get a good instant read thermometer, take the chicken out about 5 degrees before the desired temperature, then rest 15-30 minutes during which time the chicken will continue to "cook" and reach the desired temperature. Some people lift the chicken to let the juices run out, taking clear juices as a sign the chicken is cooked. Unfortunately that technique may also mean the chicken is overcooked. Get a thermometer. You'll find a zillion uses once you have it. I perfer digital, the larger the numbers the better.

            Sixth: My personal preference: brine the whole chicken overnight(less time for parts); truss it for better appearance and ease of handling while in the oven.

            To roast: begin roasting on a rack breast down for 20-30 minutes (depends on size)- this protects the breast from the heat a bit, gives the legs a bit more heat to increase your chances of having a jucier breast AND fully cooked dark meat. Some say this also self bastes the bird as the juices run into instead of away from the breast meat. After roasting breast down, turn it on its side on the rack for another 15 or so minutes to brown it. Then turn the bird again to the other side 15 or so minutes. Lastly, turn it breast up. At this point the last 15 or so minutes should brown the skin nicely and bring the breast meat to within 5 minutes of your desired temperature.

            I never can keep the right internal temperature fixed in my mind, so look it up. Check both the dark and light meat in the fleshy part; be sure not to touch the bone. Find out where the heat sensor on your thermometer is and immerse it completely. (You can go in sideways as well as perpendicular to the bond. My impression is many charts are 5-10 degrees higher than they need to be. You just want it hot enough to kill any evil organisms. Perhaps someone else can come up with the right temperature to kill off the nasties without killing off the texture and flavor. 155? 165? But remember, begin resting it at least 5 degrees shy of that desired temp. You can tent it with foil, Keep it on the top of the stove where it's warm.

            Keep in mind there are many ways and some might suit your taste better than mine does. My grandmother used to simmer her chicken in water to make chicken soup, remove it before it was so cooked as to fall apart, then roasted it in the oven. She always used a big bird, included the legs. I don't think the little ones we use would work that way at all.

            Good luck.

            1 Reply
            1. re: saucyknave

              Also, a few years back Cooks Illustrated had a feature on "To Rack or Not To Rack (and if so, *which* rack to use)"...or something. The verdict was a V rack, like the one W-S carries, below.


            2. If you want to keep it simple, you might try using a whole bird with a Spanek thingie holding it upright. Seems to work.

              1. as you can see, you can make a roast chicken as complicated as you want (the cooks illustrated article is exhibit one). to me, roast chicken is sunday dinner food and is not meant to involve a production. here are the guidelines:
                1) start with a good chicken. sadly, since foster farms bought out zacky, this has become much more difficult in california. empire kosher, which can be found at trader joes from time to time, is the best replacement i've found.
                2) rub it with butter. i usually mince some herbs into it and make a paste.
                3) salt well (if you're sufficiently organized, do brine, but i never seem to be).
                4) place breast-side up on a V-shaped rack.
                5) roast at 400 degrees until the inner thigh reaches between 160 and 165 (at that point, you'll be able to twist the drumstick and have it move). remove from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes before carving.
                6) if you want to make a sauce, pour off the fat from the roasting pan (reserve it to mix with red wine vinegar to dress a salad of bitter greens, if you want--this is rarely done anymore, but it tastes unbelievably great). deglaze the pan with white wine, mount with butter and herbs.

                2 Replies
                1. re: russ parsons

                  Russ, do you still salt well/brine with the kosher chicken? It has already been salted. I find I use a much lighter hand with salt for kosher meats. I don't think I'd brine a kosher bird at all.

                  1. re: cypressstylepie

                    i do still brine with a kosher bird. koshering is different than brining--it's packed with dry salt (to remove the blood) and then it's washed off. Very little salt is absorbed (i've never noticed a salty taste to a kosher bird ... but i suppose if you were very sensitive). brining MUST be done with liquid present, since it's the absorption of the liquid that makes the difference. that said, as i said before, most times i roast a chicken it's for sunday dinner (followed by king of the hill, simpsons and malcom) and that hardly seems like the time to brine.

                2. I'm also a fanatic about trying to achieve the perfect roast chicken. I've tried many different approaches, but always seem to come back to this simple technique that I got from Jacques Pepin's "La Technique." I have modified it, however, to the extent that I don't truss the bird. Trussing makes it look better, but causes uneven cooking.

                  Anyway, this is as easy as they come.

                  Get a 3.5 pound fryer rinse it well and pat it dry. Very liberally salt and pepper. Melt 3 tbps. butter in a 10" cast iron skillet (this item is crucial). Then roll the chicken in the butter to coat it well.

                  Position the chicken on it's side and place in a preheated 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Then, switch it to its other side for another 15 minutes. After that, set it breast side up and cook for an additional 30 minutes for a total cooking time of 1 hour. Let it rest 10 minutes before carving.

                  BTW, about the basting, sometimes I forget to do it completely and it turns out just fine. I think the pan throws up so much of the sizzling butter and chicken fat that it pretty much does the job for you. The skin, of course, it perfectly crisp.

                  Try this, you'll like it!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Bob Brooks


                    I agree with the modification not to truss. After all, I prefer my poultry to look "wanton", as Julia Child refers to untrussed poultry....

                    1. re: Karl S.

                      me too. i think trussing is only important if you're cooking on a rotisserie, as all roasting used to be. and that turned into the accepted shape of a roast chicken. besides, i always carve in the kitchen (don't get chicken juice all over the tablecloth and i can freely snitch crispy bits of skin and the oysters without anyone interfering).