In my family, Thanksgiving is a Big Deal — the sort of holiday that I and about two dozen family members and friends look forward to for months. I’ve been known to start thinking about it as early as July.
Traditionally held by my mother, the holiday involves 30lb turkeys and massive crocks of sweet potatoes and vegetables, all eaten on tables decorated with dried leaves and votive candles. Mom doesn’t mess around.
And just like a football coach wouldn’t run a new play at the Super Bowl, my mother doesn’t serve a dish at Thanksgiving unless it has been tested and tweaked and tested again. It’s serious stuff, this Thanksgiving business.
So a few years ago, my mom decided to experiment with a new turkey recipe that claimed you could cook your turkey in about 2 hours at a very high and dry heat and yield the most succulent bird you’ve ever tasted. No basting, no turning, no stuffing. Just bake the bird at 450°F for a couple of hours. The claim sounded improbable, but she figured if it didn’t work out, she’d only wasted 2 hours of her time. She could always fall back on her stand-by recipe.
The turkey turned out fantastically and has since become our Thanksgiving standard. But I started wondering if the same method could be applied to other meats and poultry, particularly chicken. After looking into it, I found that Barbara Kafka has been touting this method of roasting for decades, often to the skepticism of cooks like Julia Child (who was quoted as saying she “hates” this method).
I was a little fearful of jacking my oven up to 500°F to roast a chicken, so I found another, similar recipe by Thomas Keller that roasts the chicken at 450°F for about an hour and is positively fantastic. The high, dry heat caramelizes the surface of the skin and melts excess fat and water out of the chicken, which bastes the bird as it cooks.
Thanksgiving is a special day, where I’m surrounded by loved ones and eat holiday fare that I look forward to all year. But this chicken recipe is something special that I can eat all year round, making even an average Monday night something to look forward to.
Thomas Keller’s Simple Roast Chicken
Adapted from Bouchon
A few notes: This recipe has the potential to create a lot of smoke and spattering in the oven. One way to cut down on that is to line the bottom of the roasting pan with potatoes, which will absorb the grease and prevent the chicken from making a total mess in your oven.
Also, this method of roasting makes it more difficult to tell if the chicken is done by looking at the color of the meat; some of the dark meat may look a little pinker than normal. Not to fear. As long as a thermometer inserted between the leg and thigh registers 180˚F and the juices run clear when you pierce that area, the chicken is done.
One 3-4 lb chicken, preferably free-range
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2-3 red-skinned potatoes (depends on size of chicken)
2 teaspoons chopped thyme
Preheat the oven to 450˚F. Slice the potatoes into 1/4″ slices and line your roasting pan with the potatoes.
Rinse the chicken inside and out and dry both the inside and outside well with paper towels. You want the chicken to be as dry as possible so that it doesn’t create any steam in the oven. This is also why you don’t stuff this chicken with anything: you don’t want anything inside the chicken that will create more steam.
Sprinkle the inside of the chicken with salt and pepper. Then, truss the bird by pulling the chicken legs together over the breast and tying them together with twine (see my photos above).
Salt the outside of the chicken by “raining” salt all over it, as Keller says. You’ll need to use about 1 tablespoon; when the chicken is done, you should still be able to see some grains of salt. This will help create a crisp and flavorful skin. Sprinkle the chicken with a little ground pepper.
Place the chicken in the roasting pan, on top of the potatoes, and stick the pan in the oven. Let the chicken roast for 50-60 minutes, or until a thermometer stick between the leg and thigh reads 180˚F and the juices run clear. Don’t baste it, don’t touch it, just let it roast undisturbed.
When the chicken is done, remove the pan from the oven and add the chopped time to the juices in the pan. Baste the chicken with the juices by pouring them over the top of the chicken. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and let it rest for 15 minutes.
Undo the twine, carve and enjoy!
Yield: 2-4 servings