Roast Chicken Technique
I love roast chicken and the variations of time, temperature and seasonings are extremely diverse. What is the best combination to produce a tasty, succulent and consistent product? I've tried breast down at high heat then turn over and finish at low heat, drunken chicken, brining, butter under the skin, etc. Is there a consensus on what is best?
I recently watched the episode of The French Chef with Julia Child called To Roast a Chicken and in it she uses a rotisserie. I was sort of surprised. It hadn't really occurred to me before to do it up that way, but now I am interested. I can't see myself buying an appliance for it, though. Maybe I'll try and convince a friend to get one. :)
It's worth having the Ronco appliance (IMO) - skin always comes out crisp & meat is never dried out (if you follow the instructions). It's the small enclosed area that gets it just right. I think there may be different sizes, so the small one may work for you. Anyway, if you end up getting the "Set it & Forget it", be sure to report back with results.
The reason it's so good is because you can.....set it & forget it. Really. Your concern was the inconsistency of cooking chicken, and IMO the Ronco appliance solves that problem easily. We don't do (meat) roasts, but would certainly use it for that should we decide to make one. Even if it were only good for poultry, you're a chicken lover, so it should earn its keep. Plus due to its compact size, it cooks more quickly than a standard-size oven w/rotisserie. (No, I don't own stock in Ronco!)
A lot of people are gonna recommend the Zuni method or something like it (Thomas Keller's method is similar, as are some others - basically use a small bird, high heat, short roasting time, a few other little tricks). It's super popular on CH. With good reason - it's a fine method and stupid-easy too.
But the truth is there is no consensus, no best way to roast a chicken. A lot of the medium-temp, longer cooking methods are trickier to pull off properly but also can lead to a moist flavorful bird (and crispy skin), along with more potential for letting aromatics shine, more versatility in creating sauces.
My personal favorite (adapted from my mom's adaptation of God-knows-what):
1 chicken (about 4.5 - 5.5 pounds), with giblets
about 6 cloves of garlic
1/2 stick butter
1 lemon, cut in half
2 tablespoons dry mustard
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon cumin
Handful each of parsley and cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 medium-size yellow onions, quartered
3 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon dijon or brown mustard, or to taste
1. Combine some quartered onion, a couple of cloves of garlic, one cut up lemon, and spices (dry ginger, dry mustard, season salt, cumin, pepper or lemon pepper, and some cilantro and parsley) and throw it into the cavity of the chicken.
2. Melt 1/2 stick of butter, with about 1/2 lemon's worth of fresh lemon juice, about a teaspoon each of the dry mustard and dry ginger, cracked pepper, and cumin to taste. Brush half of this over the chicken. Then season chicken with salt to taste. In a roasting pan scatter 3 of the quartered onions. Either place the chicken on top of the onions, or on a rack over the onions and roast for 30 minutes @ 425.
3. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, combine the chicken stock, the remaining onion, the remaining garlic cloves, the remaining dry mustard and dry ginger, some more cilantro, a good dash of cumin, dijon mustard, and the other half lemon half (juice and all). Taste and adjust seasoning before adding the giblets. Bring to a simmer and cook for approx 30 minutes.
4. Check the chicken - if the skin looks good, reduce the oven to about 375. Baste with a bit more of the melted butter mixture. Pour about 1/2 cup stock (you can also add a splash of white wine) on the onions and continue to let it cook.
5. Strain the stock and set it aside (I love the liver and have been known to buy extra and throw it into the pan with the chicken to roast at the end after cooking it in the broth).
6. Baste the chicken every 20 minutes with a bit of the stock until it registers about 155 f with a digital thermometer in the center of the breast. Remove the chicken and rest it. Sometimes i dry then saute the bottom side and thighs in a pan to crisp that skin and bring the temp up a bit without overcooking the white meat.
7. Meanwhile, add the rest of the stock to the roasting pan and deglaze (there should be lots of black and brown onion bits) and reduce to sauce consistency. Cut the bird into pieces and return it to pan with the sauce, giving everything a good toss.
Serve with buttered noodles or bread or something else to mop up the sauce. You can strain the onions if you want, but I don't.
I don't bother brining, but if you do, a standard saltwater brine would be fine.
One of the techniques I've tried was from the Food Network web site and it's called rotisserie chicken but it is done in a conventional oven. It calls to roast the bird at 250 F for 5 hours. This actually gives moist, excellent chicken but renders the skin practically inedible. Does anyone cook chicken at a low temperature and salvage the skin?
Agree 100% on this method. The key here is to buy a smaller bird and to make sure you have plenty of dry heat, which gets the skin nice and crispy. The small bird lessens the cook time and ensures that the skin won't burn, but will have a deep golden brown color. Go for something free range that hasn't been fed a bunch of hormones or steroids, they should be about 3 lbs. If you need more meat than that, buy two and roast them at the same time. One bird takes about 45 minutes in my oven, sometimes a little less. I would also add that a roasting rack helps here. If you lay the chicken down on the roasting pan flat, it sits in its own juices, which makes getting a crispy skin more difficult.
Keller says you can slather a little butter over the bird when it is done roasting, or serve with some nice dijon mustard. You don't need to do a whole lot with this method to end up with a delicious chicken. I don't love the dijon mustard combo personally, and almost always make myself a little pan gravy using the drippings from the roasting pan.