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Roast Chicken: A Better Way?

There are a million roast chicken recipes and techniques out there. Everything from slow and low recipes I've seen on the web (250f) to Keller and Barbara Kafka (450-500f), dry brines, wet brines. The Keller recipe while it works fine for smallish chickens in the 2 pound range at the more common 4 pound range for me it simply produces a cooked chicken. Nothing to write home about. The Zuni recipe, while the dry brining technique is good for retaining moisture, as someone who has had the chicken at Zuni the home recipe misses the soul of the real Zuni roast chicken which comes from the flavor of it being roasted in a wood fired oven. Regardless while the actual Zuni chicken is good I think it can be improved. To me the best tasting chickens I have had have been done in rotisserie's. Chickens with flavorful browned skin, not necessarily extra crispy, with moist meat that pulls easily away from the bone. How can you reproduce this at home with a conventional oven? Perhaps covered in a cast iron enameled pan in a med oven (300f range) then later uncovered for additional browning? Constant basting? Rotating during cooking? A high temp then low temp technique? There has to be a better way and I'm looking for ideas.

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  1. As some on this board know, I am a roast chicken fanatic and have tried just about every recipe out there. I developed my own, which I will link to... but at the same time, I have to say that Marcella Hazen's Chicken With Two Lemons is the best roast chicken I've ever eaten in a home. And it is ridiculously easy:

    http://www.wchstv.com/gmarecipes/roas...

    My own 'perfect roast chicken':

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/409738

    2 Replies
    1. re: Tom P

      Yes I see you follow the Kafka/Keller high temp school and this is the kind of chicken I make the most as well but the more I think about it the more I think it can be improved upon. Usually what I end up with when I do this is a chicken with very crispy skin and lovely color, thighs that are bursting with juices and just cooked to doneness, and breast meat that is well, just a firmly cooked breast. Stuffing butter under its skin seems to do little to help. Do the preserved lemons change this? In my minds eye of roast chicken perfection I'm looking for a chicken that you can easily pull apart with your hands and is shreddable like a rotisserie chicken, that has the giving quality of long cooked meat where the connective tissues have broken down, yet still retaining the deep rich brown character of a roast chicken. Covering a chicken in a thick pot for a couple hours in a med oven will certainly produce a shreddible chicken, but l'm assuming one with pale flaccid skin. I am looking really for the best of both worlds. The 350 temp of the hazan chicken interest me since its lower than the standard 400f-425f you see in 99% of roast chicken recipies and begins to approach the 325-300 temp which leads to more succulent falling apart meats in a wet covered environment. There are so many roast chicken experts on here I know we are going to figure out a new interesting method one way or another :)

      1. re: rezpeni

        Loving this! There are indeed so many methods. As noted, I've turned them all kinds of ways, seared them... etc. Try the Hazen one. It is so delicious and everything... skin, dark meat, white meat... are perfect.

        As for mine, the preserved lemons do seem to add something to the white meat and keep it moist. I love to prep it the day before and let it rest, it adds a lot of flavor. I also now universally roast my chickens in a very large Lodge cast iron skillet I have, which works beautifully.

    2. Hi, rezpeni:

      Quite the coincidence, I made a chance variance in Keller's recipe tonight on a larger chicken and was very pleased. The variances had to do with what I *didn't* have in my panty and my mis-timing of accompanying dishes. But I'm glad it worked out that way.

      Variance #1: Instead of honey/molases/sugar in the brine, I used kecup manis.

      Variance #2: Instead of a high oven all the way, I did 475F for 40 minutes (as Keller insists), and then 250 for another 20 minutes.

      I don't know what variance to attribute it to, but the flesh was more tender and succulent than the straight-up Bouchon recipe gives me. I'm tempted to guess that it is the higher glutamate content in the kecup, but who knows? All I know is it was an improvement over kaleo-does-Keller, so I'm pleased.

      Aloha,
      Kaleo

      10 Replies
      1. re: kaleokahu

        The variances had to do with what I *didn't* have in my panty
        ~~~~~~~~~~
        whoa there! when did roast chicken become an x-rated discussion? ;)

        i'm personally a fan of dry brining and keeping it at 425-450 the whole way through (i just can't stand the smoke factor that accompanies anything hotter than that - the ventilation in my place is awful).

        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

          I'm a fan of the dry brining too in fact the one thing I know for certain in all my roast chicken experiences is that it does greatly improve the flavor and moistness of the meat and pulling moisture from the skin def leads to crispier skin. When I wet brined in the past I have not always been happy with the results and sometimes find myself with meat that almost resembles sandwich meat in character. Not a good thing obviously. But beyond the dry brine pretty much everything else is up for question at the moment, I'm at a point of roast chicken soul searching!

          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

            Hi, goodhealthgourmet:

            Oooops. I guess I should now also say that I had no kecup manis in my panty, either.

            I'm very familiar with dry rubs for smoking/kippering salmon and for BBQ, but how do you dry-brine a whole chicken? I.e., how do you get and keep the "brine" in full contact with the bird, inside and out?

            Aloha,
            Kaleo

            1. re: kaleokahu

              Dry brine is basically just another way to say salt early. I usually dry my chickens well then coat them inside and out with salt and pepper, then leave in the fridge a day or two. Sometimes i leave them covered sometimes uncovered. Uncovered usually dries the skin out more and makes it crispier.

              1. re: rezpeni

                Hi, rezpeni:

                Thanks, I understood that dry brining was salting early. My question is more limited to how you keep the dry ingredients stuck to the bird for whatever period you're "brining" it. When I do salmon or ribs with a dry rub, there's pretty much a flat surface. I like to use whole black peppercorns, whole garlic cloves, citrus rinds, mushroom raspings, bay leaves, and whole fresh herbs, etc. in my liquid brines and these I can't keep stuck to a chicken very well.

                Also, are you using any acids in your dry brine? I suppose you could use powdered citric or lactic acids. And sugars?

                I'm interested in what people use for dry-brining or curing. And does dry curing result in a pellicle forming on chicken, like it does on fish?

                Thanks,
                Kaleo

                1. re: kaleokahu

                  Even with as dry as you can get it usually there is some moisture which allows dry ingredients to stick to the skin. Short of a wet marinade another way to do it is to combine all the ingredients into paste bound with a very small amount of olive oil which you can spread on the chicken. The way I usually do it is to combine all the ingredients in a food processer, I like how it breaks down things like bay leaves and turns them into something spreadable. You do have to be careful because sometimes the dry ingredients will burn in which case its probably advisable to remove as much of them as you can before the actual cooking.

                  1. re: rezpeni

                    Hi, rezpeni:

                    So you remove the dry brine prior to cooking, right? Is it usually brushed or rinsed off? The reason I ask is that with salmon, you rinse it off and allow to dry until a pellicle forms. I like dry cures for salmon, but the wet-briners have a point: if you're going to wash it all off anyway, why not just do it wet?

                    How do you control the salinity when you use the dry, or do you care about that?

                    Aloha,
                    Kaleo

                    1. re: kaleokahu

                      I only remove what I think I might burn, generally anything green is going to turn black if its exposed in the oven as long as a chicken is going to need to cook. I don't wash it since I don't want to introduce more moisture just brush it off with a paper towel. The difference between wet brine and dry brine for me is the end product, I prefer a dry brine for meat, wet brine for me when it's on poultry begins to taste like the roast chicken slices from the deli counter.

                      As for controlling the salt, honestly I have never oversalted a chicken if you just liberally salt it you will be fine.

                      1. re: rezpeni

                        Hi, rezpeni:

                        Okeedoke.

                        Aloha,
                        Kaleo

          2. re: kaleokahu

            The temp reduction is an interesting idea. I wonder if longer and more stops along the way from 450-250 would produce anything different? Or starting at 450, then covering and gradually reducing?

          3. one of the signature dishes of Jonathan Waxman (Barbuto restaurant) is roast chicken, and he absolutely advocates basting. have not tried to replicate his technique, yet. I do think rotating the bird makes a difference, and to that end I stand it up vertically, with a variation of the 'beer can' grill technique. [porcelain bird stands and similar accessories are available specifically designed for the task] basting goes pretty easily with the bird standing up, as you might imagine. of course, that isn't possible in some ovens -- we have an outdoor charcoal/wood burning kamado ceramic-domed oven/grill, but have done it in the indoor gas unit too. have fun

            1 Reply
            1. re: moto

              I found a video of Waxman making roast chicken on the internet the other day. Honestly, to me it didn't look all that great! Have you had the roast chicken at Burbuto? Maybe the recipe for home is dumbed down? Here is the one I found online: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uy8Q7C... check out 5:12 for the finished chicken.

            2. A good low & slow (300°, foil-covered) recipe here:
              http://moderncleveland.com/recipes/mr...

              Some good 425° recipes follow this taste-test article- BTW, their conclusion is that basting doesn't add to the flavor and only interferes with getting a crispy skin:
              http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi...

              Marcella's 2-Lemon chicken is indeed simple and great.

              Tom P's recipe looks good too, though I have yet to try it. Have achieved good results with just a liberal application of kosher salt and a 500° oven, but I also have sensitive smoke detectors and a natural aversion to cleaning the oven after each roast...

              1 Reply
              1. re: eclecticsynergy

                BTW, their conclusion is that basting doesn't add to the flavor and only interferes with getting a crispy skin:
                ~~~~~~~~~~~
                it does, which is why i'm not really a fan of the basting method. sure you can blast it with a dose of extra-high heat at the end to dry it out, but it's just not the same.

              2. I place seasoned butter under the skin (add whichever herbs or zests you wish, sage & lemon work well.) 1 lemon & 1 onion quartered & placed in the cavity & a little oil & seasoning on the skin. Baste occasionally, when you remember, & most importantly, dont overcook or it will be as dry as a bone! Remember it will contintue cooking a little when you take it out of the oven to rest. Use the juices to make a lovely flavourful gravy & serve with roast potatoes & blanched, crunchy french beans.