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America's Test Kitchen roast chicken - the best! (long)

On a recent episode of ATK I watched their revised technique for high-temperature roasted chicken with pan-roasted potatoes. Don't leave the potatoes out, their purpose is to soak up the chicken fat so you don't smoke up the kitchen.

The link is here (requires registration):

If you're not a member, here's my paraphrased version, with my variations below it.

1 roasting chicken, 3.5-4 lbs
1 cup kosher salt or 1/2 cup table salt
1/2 cup sugar
1.5 Ts olive oil

2.5 pounds roasting potatoes, russets or Yukon Golds
3/4 ts salt
ground black pepper
1 Tb olive oil

Compound butter:
2 Tb butter
1 clove garlic, mashed
1 Tb dijon mustard
1 ts minced fresh thyme
ground black pepper

Brine chicken in solution of 1 cup kosher salt (or 1/2 cup table salt) and 1/2 cup sugar to 1/2 gallon water for 1 hour.

Pat chicken dry. Cut out backbone (their website has illustrations) to butterfly chicken. Flatten breastbone (just push down firmly).

Mix up compound butter - the website has some other compound butter recipes. With your fingers, loosen skin across breast and as far down drumsticks as you can, do not tear skin. Spoon butter under skin and work across as much of the chicken as possible. Rub 1.5 Ts olive oil over chicken.

Slice potatoes 1/8" to 1/4" inch thickness. Salt and pepper lightly, toss with 1 Tb oil.

Line bottom of grilling pan with heavy-duty aluminium foil. Spread potato slices across pan evenly.

Place grilling rack over potatoes. Arrange butterflied chicken on top, folding drumsticks inward so they cover part of the breast. Roast at 500 degrees for 20 minutes, turn pan around, roast for another 20 minutes or until internal temperature in breast is 160.

Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. Take grilling rack off, pat potatoes which will have a fair amount of oil on them. Potatoes may stick to foil, peel as much off as possible. Cut chicken up and serve with potatoes. That's it.

I made this over the weekend and it is absolutely the best roast chicken I've ever tasted. It may be heresy on this board, but it beat the Zuni chicken by a mile. The skin is crispy, meat is juicy and loaded with flavor. The potatoes are simply fabulous, roasted in butter and chicken fat and juice how could they not be? Choosing between the potatoes and Zuni's bread salad is a toss-up. I'm thinking of ways to do this with bread as well.

My variations:
I brined for about 6 hours, after putting the butter under the chicken skin, I put the chicken in the fridge overnight.

I zested a lemon and used this instead of the garlic/thyme in the compound butter. In the TV episode they used 4 oz of butter so I did the same.

I took the chicken out at 150 degrees because I loathe dried-out meat. This reduced my roasting time to about 30 minutes, not 40. Because of this the potatoes weren't as crisp as they should have been - I think I'll let them cook a few minutes longer next time.

Last note: We had leftover chicken last night. It's so hot I didn't want to turn on the oven but I wanted the crispiness of the chicken skin. So we used our blowtorch to char the skin, it did an excellent job of recrisping it and improved the flavor by adding a bit of smokiness. Altogether this is a WINNAH!

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  1. I also like a wet brine. The Zuni chicken was very good (photo below), but it didn't 'knock my socks off', perhaps because I always brine my chicken anyway.

    Zuni Chicken...

    1 Reply
    1. re: Funwithfood

      Thanks for the crisp skin "blowtorch" tip!
      Chicken brulee! Just up my alley!

    2. Butterflying and high temperature is the best way to roast a chicken. The chicken doesn't taste steamed and the whole chicken browns beautifully. Plus the chicken is easy to cut up. I think ATK is a great cooking series and I always recommend their cookbooks to beginning cooks.

      2 Replies
      1. re: PBSF

        Yes, I'm a fan..I love the science of cooking which is why I also watch Alton...I just counted...I'm almost embarassed to say I have TEN 10! of them!
        Cookbooks are a disease which I also have!

        1. re: ChowFun_derek

          When Alton Brown made roast chicken on his Food Network show "Good Eats," Alton broiled a butterfied chicken on top of cut veggies in a broiler pan and flipped the chicken half way through.

      2. This is normally how I make all my roast chickens , but I don't butterfly it. It amazes me how quick and well the high temperature method works. The last time I roasted a chicken this way the breast was dripping with liquid!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Mickey Blue

          There are several parts to ATK's technique. Brining, butterflying, high-heat roasting on a grill pan, having something underneath the chicken to catch drippings. The reason you butterfly the chicken is so you get even roasting with just one turn of the roasting pan. I've made the Zuni chicken a number of times which is also a high-heat method. Flipping the chicken over twice in the face of the intense heat and smoke from burning chicken fat is not fun. Try butterflying it and see if you agree.

        2. I will have to try this one. I like the Zuni recipe. I also like Thomas Keller's simple roast chicken recipe in the Bouchon cookbook:


          Salt/brine and high heat seem to be what these recipes have in common. If you make Keller's recipe, do try it with butter, mustard, and salad, as he suggests. The butter isn't necessary, but it's sure yummy.

          1. I've tried it both ways, but because of appearance I prefer to keep the chicken whole.

            I save the butterfly method solely for grilling purposes, though I've used this method in the oven in the past too!

            1. I love ATK;'s recipes.
              Their spaghetti and meatball recipe has become the standard in my house. we will use no other. it is perfect and so delicious that we end up making tripe the recipe and eating it all week long.

              i know what i am making this weekend!

              1. I second Kellers' simple roast chicken recipe.

                1. Thanks so much for posting the recipe, and for honestly stating that you like this better than the Zuni chicken; that definitely caught my attention! :-)

                  I can't wait to try this. I've been meaning to try the chicken under a brick method forever, and this seems like a step in that direction w/ the butterflying and all. I think that you could easily put large cubes of bread underneath instead of potatoes. Then you could finish w/ arugula, pine nuts, etc. when the chicken rests.

                  Question: Did you use a large skillet or roasting pan? Does it matter?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Carb Lover

                    I saw this show of Americas Test kitchen and they used a large skillet. The reasoning is that the juices from the chicken would spread out over the larger area of the roasting pan and would burn. But Americas Test Kitchen said that using a skillet to roast your chicken would limit the maximum size of the chicken to about 4 lbs.

                    BTW, Americas Test Kichen also did a Chicken Under a Brick recipe. Do a search on ATK's web site to find it. To paraphrase this recipe, ATK browned a butterflied chicken (skin side down) in a skillet on the stove with a weighted pot/pan of top of the chicken. After about 20-25 minutes, ATK transferred the chicken to a plate skin side up. Then they poured off any accumulated fat in the skillet and placed sliced potatoes in the skillet. They placed the chicken skin side up on the potatoes and placed in a 450 degree oven for 10-15 minutes (until breast reaches 160 degrees) to finish cooking. The chicken is transferred to a cutting board to rest for 10-15 minutes while the potatoes are returned to the oven for about 10 more minutes.

                    1. re: Carb Lover

                      The chicken is roasted in a broiler pan - that's important because you put the potatoes underneath to catch drippings. It reminded me of rotisseries which have potatoes roasting under the chickens - I'd never do this because of the mess it would make but the broiler pan is a stroke of genius.

                      The butterflying of the chicken has several advantages - the chicken cooks evenly and you don't have to flip it over, just rotate the pan. Because everything is pretty flat the butter under the skin doesn't immediately run out. I found the chicken to be nicely flavored with the butter and seasonings. I think I could tweak this in many different ways.

                      I'm going to experiment with the bread idea. I'm a little afraid that 40 minutes of roasting would turn the bread into a pile of crumbs. For me the bread salad is the best part of Zuni's chicken so if I could combine ATK's chicken with the bread, I would be perfectly happy.

                      Oh yes, I just got my order from icaffe which included the elusive neutral stabilizer. Thank you for passing on the info on where to find it. I'm going to try making the gelato on Tyler's show using plums instead of figs (hard to find here).

                    2. I made this and loved the chicken but found the potatoes were a little underdone. On the TV show the underside of the spuds got beautifully brown and they managed to invert the whole layer so the brown side was on top. Mine were tasty but lacked that nice crisp brown exterior. Other than that, though, a success.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: rootlesscosmo

                        That's interesting, my potatoes were exactly the same. I assumed that was because I took my chicken out a little early. The edges and bottom of the potatoes were crisp and brown like theirs but the middle, though cooked, was not. I did find the potatoes very tasty but cooking in a puddle of butter and chicken fat will make anything good.

                        1. re: cheryl_h

                          I tried this last night. I dealt with the uncrisped potatoes by lowering the joint to the bottom of the oven, based on a point made in CI's "Oven Fries" recipe, seemed to work.

                      2. cheryl, when you said " brined for about 6 hours, after putting the butter under the chicken skin, I put the chicken in the fridge overnight." you didn't mean that you brined the chicken AFTER you put the butter on, did you? Did you mean that you brined the chicken, THEN put the butter on and then refrigerated overnight?? Thanks!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: kim shook

                          I brined, then added butter, then refrigerated. Sorry, my punctuation made it confusing.

                        2. I've never brined/butterflied a chicken that I roast - I put butter under the skin, Salt, pepper, and oil the outside. Toss a cut up lemon and/or orange in the cavity. Place it on a roasting rack, and fill the pan with veggies (carrots, potatoes, onions, fennel, squash, etc.) tossed in a little oil, salt and pepper.

                          I preheat the oven the whole time I'me preparing the chicken, at as hot as the oven will go. I put the pan in, lower the temp to 300, and leave it for about 90 minutes.

                          Less prep time/effort, the chicken is always juicy, and the skin is crispy. Your cooking time is doubled though, so I guess both recipes have their advantage

                          1. The Jfood Test Kitchen started about 10 years ago to develop what we believed was the best roasted chicken. After many years and the tougheest of critics, one wife two daughters we came up with the butterfly down the back and 425 for 40 minutes. When I saw ATK i felt good and when i saw their potato bed I could not resist. Outstanding addition.

                            But there are times when brining just ain;t in the cards so let me give 10 years of advice. You do NOT need the brine if not in the cards. I pick up a chicken and potatoes on the way home. First thing turn on the oven. Peel the potatoes and cut into nice 1/2" slices and onto the baking sheet. Cut the chicke up the back, flatten with the palm of your hand and onto the potatoes. Season with the seasons du jour. Into the 425 and 40 minutes later, perfection.

                            70 minutes from in the door to on the table.

                            10 Replies
                            1. re: jfood

                              Not wanting to smoke us out on a stormy night by doing a Zuni chicken, I tried the Jfood TK method last night--it was maybe the best roast chicken I've had in a while! I used a small good quality (Murray's) chicken butterflied over a bed of sweet potatoes thinly sliced on the mandolin tossed in a bit of evoo. Chicken was simply seasoned with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and grated fresh garlic, no pre-brining. About 50 minutes at 425 the chicken had a beautiful crispy skin and perfectly cooked juicy meat. And no stinky smoke nor need to clean the oven before cooking our next meal. Kudos, Jfood!

                              1. re: Marge

                                Always glad to help a fellow dog lover (cute avatar). In the last 3 years since jfood wrote that post he has expanded his A-Class chicken methods.

                                In addition to the one described he now uses (a) a Zuni method in the oven with minimum smoke (yes the first time was a freakin' nighmare with doors and windows thrown open to avoid the smoke alarms); (b) the Zuni on the Gas Weber technique (and yes that first attempt required chinese take out to feed the family) and (c) "the set it and forget it" grilled chicken on the gas weber (ibid on the first chinese take out save).

                                Jfood loves roasted chicken and having so many choices to play with is a lot of fun.

                                1. re: jfood

                                  what's your secret for keeping the smoke down when you roast zuni-style?

                                  1. re: Westminstress

                                    Two things jfood has used for his Zuni

                                    1 - He uses a 7.5 Qt calphalon dutch oven with very high sides as the vessel. This keeps a lot of the splattering inside the vessel
                                    2 - He uses a baster to remove fat from the pan every ~5 minutes after it starts to leave the chicken

                                    The other important item he found was modulating the oven temperature.. He found his oven works best at ~425.

                                    Hope that helps

                                    1. re: jfood

                                      That's interesting -- I would worry that opening the oven door every five minutes reduces the oven temperature quite a lot.

                                      I am about to install a new (to me) vintage range, not self-cleaning, and I have been idly wondering whether I can bring myself to sully the inside with a Zuni chicken. I think cooking in a large high-sided pot makes a lot of sense. I will try it. Though come to think of it, don't you find it difficult to reach into the deep hot pot to flip the chicken? Or do you avoid flipping?

                                      Have you tried adding potatoes or vegetables to the bottom of the pan? That might also help prevent splatter, and it also makes the chicken easier to flip. I find that if there's no vegetables in the bottom of the pan, the skin sticks about half the time despite the recipe's promises to the contrary. It happens to me with Marcella's 2 lemon chicken as well.

                                      1. re: Westminstress

                                        Here's the trick on the basting. Have two potholders on your hands; open the door grab the pot and close the door. Place on a trivet on the counter and take the grease out. Do the reverse on the back in the oven. Not too badon the temp reduction.

                                        Flipping the bird. Not a problem when on the trivet.

                                        Potatoes on the bottom, yup. but for some reason jfood remembers that they may not have been fully cooked in his first attempt. He needed to reduce their size.

                                        The pan he uses is non-stick

                                        1. re: jfood

                                          I just discovered the Zuni method for roasting chicken and I can't believe how good and easy it is. I use a small Empire (kosher) chicken and skip the brining step. Instead of a roasting pan I use my 10" All-Clad stainless skillet and the chicken fills the whole thing so there is no burning whatsoever, even when I crank the oven up to 500 degrees. When the chicken is done (crispy!) and I move it to a platter to rest, what remains in the pan is golden brown. It is a beautiful sight to behold. I am obsessed with this recipe!

                                          1. re: carolbf

                                            This recipe is awesome chicken turns out moist and crispy and when you take the potatoes off the foil some of them are like potato chips yum! I made this last night and blogged about it.. I read after the fact to get extra crsipy skin after you brine/butter bird leave it uncovered in your fridge 8hrs I will try that next time.

                                            1. re: gourmandrea

                                              I will be roasting chicken (finally!) really soon thanks to this recipe. One question: On which level you put your bird on? I have 5 height possibilities-usually put everything on top two but I think that for high temperature maybe I should put it lower? Thanks again.

                                              1. re: nimfa

                                                Nimfa I like to center it in my oven ie: too low potato will burn too high chicken will burn. Hope that helps