While chicken is not my favourite meat by any standards, I love me a good roast chicken. With the health conscious, kukad loving Atul around and an ongoing effort to eat low carb for dinner, chicken often features on our dinner menu. At home or out, the Punju in the boy asks for chicken. Every. single. time. And so it happens that many a chef has probably, but hopefully not, spat into our order and muttered in frustration; waiter has cursed and co-diners have cringed at how finicky I am about the way I need my chicken done. My excuse is that far more often than not, restaurants serve up tasteless dry leather and call it chicken.. So much so, that roast chicken is one of the dishes I would much rather eat at home than out.
The goal when it comes to roasting chicken is to get a beautiful golden coloured bird with lovely and crisp skin and beautiful, moist flesh. Years of salivating, dreaming, reading and experimenting have landed me my bag of tricks for a well roasted bird. Ofcourse, this is the way I like it. Feel free to tweak, play around so you arrive at what works for you…
1. Start with a full bird. Whole, uncut is best. Skin on is a must. Incase you want to save the roasting time, you could butterfly the chicken but it won’t be as pretty.
2. Consider a brine for 4 to 12 hours before the eating day. This is desire-able but negotiable. A well brined bird is almost always incredible in flavour and texture. However, this takes time and additional prep and is not always possible.
The buttermilk brine at Smitten Kitchen is a favourite. I do add plenty more garlic and throw in whatever other herbs I like (oregano, sage, rosemary with chicken), spices (cloves, pepper and bayleaf are interesting), fruit (orange and lemon peel do wonders for almost anything) or anything else I maybe in the mood for or are at hand. A water based brine works well too but I love the way buttermilk breaks down the meat and makes it incredibly tender. NOTE – I do have a niggling thought that this step counters or retracts from the values of the next one which is keeping the chicken dry inorder to avoid steam when roasting. Pushed to the wall, I would probably say that brining is most critical for a bird if its to be cooked without the skin on. The flavour pay-off is great though, so whenever posible, I try to brine the meat before cooking it.
3. Help the skin dry out. Pat it dry inside and out and keep the bird, UNCOVERED in the fridge for about 12 hours.
Once you have brined the bird for 4 – 12 hours, take it out of the brine, pat it dry and keep UNCOVERED in the fridge(not the freezer), so the skin dries out. Keep it this way for atleast 12 hours. The meat bacteria nazis will probably go crazy about this but I am fanatic about making sure my ingredients are not suspicious or stale and have found that this never causes a problem. Just start with a fresh bird. Always. And that means not just checking the use-by date but also using your sense of smell to check if there is even a faint hint of ammonia. The main idea – A well dried out skin which does not cause steam. This is the only way to that gorgeous crisp, golden layer that’s not only the tastiest part of chicken but also seals in moisture and keeps the inside moist.
4. Before roasting, experiment with DRY flavouring.
There is so much that can be done. While less works well too (I mean just salt and pepper), there is a LOT of stuff you can do to enhance the flavour of a roast chicken. And No, that doesn’t include butter!! Butter apparently adds moisture and not significant enough flavour for the tradeoff. I would never say no to a pat of soft butter right on the bird before eating though. Dry rubs over the skin and herbs/aromatics in the cavity have consistently worked well for me. Dry so that the skin you so painstakingly dried out doesn’t get moist again. For the roast in the pics you see here I rubbed the outside of the chicken with brown sugar, chilli flakes, thyme and rosemary, stuffed the cavity with orange, rosemary, thyme and garlic and tucked some of the herbs under the skin as well. You could fool around with other dried or fresh herbs, spice mixes (have been thinking of an oregano -cumin – coriander – brown sugar – cocoa mix) that you are partial to. Stuffing some orange/lemon and aromatics inside the cavity of the bird keeps the bird moist from within and also adds to the flavour.
5. Cook over a bed of vegetables + herbs. I like to use chunks of potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, carrot, plenty of garlic and thyme all tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar.
You know I love roast vegetables to start with. But vegetables roasted under a chicken are just magic. As the chicken cooks, the juices run and flavour the vegetables that you lay the chicken on. I throw in some sugar to enhance caramalisation and drizzle olive oil to speed the browning. If you are like Meryl or me, you may actually end up eating only the vegetables and skipping the chicken altogether.
6. Bake at a high temperature (232 C). Poke the bird with a skewer near the thigh area and if the juices run clear, its done.
Chicken cooks really fast. A high temperature ensures that the time that the skin takes to brown is just enough for the interior of the meat to be cooked but not dried out. I find that lower temperatures and longer cooking time results in dried out stringy meat, which in my house would be rejected outright. Anywhere between 45 to 55 minutes per kilo works well for an uncut chicken but you could probably work with about 30-40 minutes per kilo for a butterflied version.
7. Rest the roasted bird. Remember good things come to those who wait.
Resting the bird for 15 minutes before cutting in redistributes the juices and results in an evenly juicy bird.
Serve with a healthy pat of butter. ENJOY!!