We’re all searching for something in this life. Some people search for truth and justice. Some for eternal youth. Almost everyone seeks true love. And others are just content with finding a great dry cleaner.
Me? I’m on a quest to find the perfect roast chicken. Could there be anything more soul satisfying than slicing into a magnificently burnished bird, with its impossibly crisp skin giving way to a bounty of succulent, tender meat? I think not.
In my journey to find the ultimate fabulosity in fowl, I’ve roasted a lot of chickens. Many were good. Some were even great. But the absolute best, in my mind, was achieved by using a method inspired by Chef Thomas Keller of French Laundry fame. And his process is so simple and basic, you almost can’t even call it a recipe. Except for the chicken itself, there are no ingredients — except for a little salt and pepper.
So what makes Keller’s chicken so remarkable? To start, the chicken is first air dried overnight in the fridge, then allowed to come to room temperature. After that, it’s doused with a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper, and roasted at a blistering 450 degrees.
Air drying the bird overnight helps to draw out any excess moisture, promoting a crisp, crackly skin. Letting it reach room temperature ensures that the oven temperature doesn’t go down during the roasting process, causing the chicken to cook unevenly.
Keller likes to roast his chickens in a cast iron skillet or heavy frying pan just barely big enough to fit them. But if you’re making more than one bird at a time, a regular roasting pan will work just fine. He also refrains from basting the chicken as it cooks — also to maintain that coveted crispy skin.
If you’re looking for poultry perfection, this simple yet brilliant roasted chicken a la Keller is what you’ve been waiting for. It’s the epitome of “finger-lickin’ good.” Try it, and you won’t be disappointed.
Thomas Keller’s Roast Chicken
Adapted from Bouchon; serves 2-4
Note: To ensure even cooking and a crispy skin, let the chicken air dry, uncovered, in the fridge for several hours or overnight. Then, allow it to come to room temperature for about an hour before roasting.
The directions call for the chicken to be trussed. If you don’t feel comfortable with trussing, don’t sweat it. I have skipped this step, and the bird turns out just fine.
One 3- to 4-pound farm-raised chicken
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons minced thyme (optional)
Unsalted butter (optional)
Dijon mustard (optional)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Salt and pepper the inside cavity of the bird, then truss it with some kitchen twine. When you truss a bird, the wings and legs stay close to the body and the ends of the drumsticks cover the top of the breast. Trussing helps the chicken to cook evenly and keeps it from drying out. It also makes for a more beautiful roasted bird.
Liberally sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of salt over the bird so that it has a nice uniform coating that will result in a crisp, salty, flavorful skin. When it’s cooked, you should still be able to see some of the salt baked onto the crisp skin. Season to taste with pepper.
Place the chicken in a heavy-bottomed skillet or small roasting pan. Don’t baste it or add butter at this point, as this creates extra steam, which you don’t want. Roast until the chicken is cooked through, about 50 to 60 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven and add the thyme, if using, to the pan. Baste the chicken with any juices from the pan and let it rest for 15 minutes.
Remove the twine. Separate the wing joint and remove the legs and thighs. Cut the breast down the middle and slice it or serve it on the bone. Slather the meat with fresh butter and serve with a little mustard on the side, if desired.
Find more amazingly easy recipes at Susan Filson’s blog, stickygooeycreamychewy.com.