Roasted Chicken with Herbs
Let's face it: You don't need yet another opinion about how to perfectly roast a chicken. A google search reveals 3,750,000 entries under the topic, and every decent basic cookbook includes a roasted chicken recipe. Food magazines have wars over the best methods, and the Times has often over the years enlightened us on the "news" of current chicken roasting practices.
Portrait of a Nude (Chicken)
When it comes to cooking, I lean into the adage, "There are 101 ways to skin a cat." What works perfectly for one cook may be a flop for another, depending on a multitude of variables. But this way of roasting a chicken works nicely for me. I'm not promising here that I won't ever do it another way, but this is a solid stand-by method, loosly adapted from ">The Zuni Café Cookbook.
This chicken was the delicious anchor to our domestically-oriented "play house" day meal, and the recently released LaVelle 2009 Estate Pinot Gris pulled the whole thing together with panache. The wine has a classic Oregon Pinot Gris profile with big juicy pear and crisp apple on the nose. While it has a nectarlike mouthfeel, it is very dry and crisp on the palate, and merged gleefully with the autumnal elements of our roasted meal.
Roasted Chicken the Sticks Forks Fingers Way
- One wildly expensive organic chicken purchased at your local farmer's market from a plainly dressed Mennonite woman and her doe-eyed children, who had probably thought of the hen as their pet just days before
- Fresh herbs of your choice (I recommend a mix of thyme, sage and rosemary) from your back-door herb pot
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper
One 10" well-seasoned cast iron skillet
Wash and dry your chicken. A very dry chicken is imperative to the success this method. Being careful not to tear the skin, slip your finger between the skin and breast of the bird at the butt end. Carefully and slowly, make a pocket over the breast and down over the leg and thigh on each side. Slip in herb leaves at the thigh, leg and breast. Pat the skin down nicely in place, pushing out any air pockets.
Mix several tablespoons kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste in a small bowl. Pat and rub the salt mixture over the entire surface of the bird. Sprinkle a little into the butt end.
It is at this point where ">The Zuni Café Cookbook and I diverge, usually because I'm working with a shortened timeline. Zuni allows their birds to dry-brine for up to two days in the refrigerator. I'm lucky to get two hours of brining, which I find to still render terrific results. After its salt massage, I place my little birdy on a paper towel-lined dinner plate to help with the dry factor, loosely covered with plastic wrap, and sit it in the fridge until an hour and 45 minutes before I want to serve it. The longer the chicken sits in the fridge the better (up to 2 days), with the refrigerator environment aiding in drying out the skin as much as possible.
An hour before putting the chicken in the oven, preheat it to 450˚ along with the cast iron skillet on the middle rack. The combination of the very hot skillet and the very dry skin means that your chicken will not stick to the pan (thereby tearing the skin during the flip and inadvertently releasing all the good juices.)
When the oven and skillet are good and hot (about one hour of preheating), place the dry dry dry chicken, back side down, into the hot skillet. Roast for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully flip the chicken over to its breast. Roast for another 20 minutes. Remove from oven and give the bird its final flip. Roast for another 15-20 minutes for the breast to completely crisp up. Remove from oven and allow to rest 20 minutes before carving.