April – Even More Perfect Roast Chicken

April – Even More Perfect Roast Chicken

How would you describe the perfect roast chicken? Would you mention moist white meat, or flavorful and rich dark meat, or crackly crisp skin, or still juicy leftover white meat for sandwiches and salads the next day? Maybe your answer would be ‘and’ to all those things. You want it all.

Roasted chicken has been my signature dish for years. And I am going to make it your own as well. I have found that any form of brining will dramatically improve the flavor and moistness of any baked chicken. I commonly use two methods, a dry brine and a salted buttermilk wet brine.

Here’s the bad news, it’s almost impossible to get all things with one recipe. What are you willing to give up? The decision has to do with chicken skin vs. the moistness of the leftovers. With many methods you will get crisp skin when the chicken first comes out of the oven. But leftover chicken skin is not particularly enticing at any time.

With a dry salt brine you will get wonderfully crackly crisp skin and delicious concentrated chicken taste, just not quite as moist breast meat the next day. With a buttermilk brine your leftovers will be wonderfully moist and delicious but the chicken skin will not be quite as fabulous when just out of the oven. Don’t misunderstand, it will still be a lovely burnished brown, just not as crisp. They both result in a freshly roasted chicken deserving an A+.

The other secret to a perfectly roasted and flavorful chicken is purchasing the best possible chicken available to you. By that I mean an organic, free range chicken that is ‘air chilled’. Besides flavor, there are food safety and environmental reasons to avoid the ones chilled with other birds in a huge vat of chlorinated water. You can read more about the difference here. Although ‘air chilled’ chickens are still sprayed with a fine mist of chlorinated water in the beginning, they don’t sit in it. That liquid can account for 2 to 12% of the chicken’s weight, thus diluting their flavor. And who wants to pay for chlorinated water? It’s what you see in the bottom of the pre-packaged chickens.

Any form of brining requires some advance planning. Ideally the chicken should brine for 24 hours (I’ve left them as long as 72 hours), but at least 6 hours for the best results.

Years ago, when brining first became ‘the thing’, I would prepare a liquid wet salty brine for my turkey and chickens. It required gallons of liquid (in the case of a turkey) and an ice chest (often full of bags of ice) on the back porch. Unfortunately it also frequently resulted in a spilled liquid mess on the kitchen floor. Then I read about the Zuni Cafe method. The Zuni Cafe is a restaurant in San Francisco, famous for its roasted chicken. There is no liquid required in their recipe, just a kosher salt rub and your preferred seasoning (mine is always Herbes de Provence) and an overnight (or two or three) stay on a rack, uncovered in the fridge. Yippee! No spilled mess. I still often use this method and you can read more about it in a post from 2019 here.

Perfect Roast Chicken

The Perfect Dry Brined Roast Chicken

When it emerges from the fridge it looks like a wizened wrinkled century old chicken, don’t worry about it.

Then, a few months ago, I read about roasting a whole buttermilk brined chicken. Samin Nosrat writes about this technique in her book Salt Fat Acid Heat. Buttermilk has long been used to improve the flavor of fried chicken but I had never thought to use the method on a whole chicken. Don’t worry, there is no need to pull out that ice chest. You only need a cup or two of buttermilk and a couple of tablespoons of kosher salt. I simply mix the buttermilk and salt in a gallon zip lock bag, plop in the chicken, close up the bag, smush it around (put the bag in a bowl in case there are leaks) and place it in the fridge for a few hours to a few days. You can add seasonings if you want.

I found this brining mix at my favorite spice pervader, the Oaktown Spice Shop. It’s intended for that big liquid brine I mentioned in the beginning, but I simply add a couple of tablespoons to the buttermilk. It works great.

Smoky Brine

Smoky Brine

The skin comes out a wonderful burnished brown due to the caramelization of the sugars in the buttermilk. it’s not quite as crisp as the dry brined method but still wonderful.

Buttermilk Brined Roast Chicken

Buttermilk Brined Roast Chicken

Here’s the fantastic thing about the buttermilk brined chicken…the leftovers. “What?” you say. Well, do you know how those rotisserie chickens you get at the store are quite acceptable when warm the first day, but the leftovers are almost always dry and tasteless? The leftover buttermilk brined chicken is still moist and delicious, even two days later. Even the breast meat!

Buttermilk Brined Roast Chicken

Buttermilk Brined Roast Chicken

For a dry brine:

  • Remove the chicken from its packaging and dry with paper towels (never rinse)
  • Rub the chicken with 2 – 4 tablespoons of kosher salt, all over. Place in a small pan, on a rack, breast up, uncovered, in the fridge. You can also rub with any other seasonings you may favor at the same time as the salt…cumin, herbes de Provence, chili powder, sumac, etc.
  • Leave undisturbed for at least 6 hours but as long as 72

For a buttermilk brine:

  • Dissolve 2 – 4 tablespoons of kosher salt in 1 to 2 cups of buttermilk in a gallon plastic bag.
  • Remove the chicken from its packaging and dry with paper towels (never rinse)
  • Place the chicken in the plastic bag and squeeze to remove as much air as possible. Squish the liquid around the chicken.
  • Please inside a bowl, or in a second bag to catch any leaks, and leave in the fridge for at least 6 hours, up to 48. You can turn the bag when you think about it but it isn’t entirely necessary.

For both:

  1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F (218 degrees C)
  2. Line your roasting pan with foil to catch spills and oil a rack on which to place the chicken.
  3. Spray or rub the chicken with a bit of olive oil. There is not need to clean off the salt or buttermilk.
  4. Place the chicken, breast side down, on the rack and roast for 30 minutes.
  5. After 30 minutes turn the chicken breast side up, continue to roast for another 30-40 minutes until a leg moves easily in the socket and juices run clear when pierced with a small knife in the thickest part of the thigh.
  6. Remove from the oven and let the chicken rest for at least 10 minutes before carving.

That’s all.

I’ve also cooked brined chickens (both ways) on the BBQ using the beer can method, and in the oven. You don’t need to use beer in that can. Wine works, juice works, also plain water.

You can read more about Beer Can Roast Chicken here with Middle Eastern Flavors, and Beer Can Roast Chicken with Italian Flavors on the BBQ by clicking on the links. When cooking chicken on the BBQ, or in the oven, I often  make two because the leftovers give me additional meals for the week ahead. I recommend you do the same.

Do you have a signature, tried and true meal that you can whip out with your eyes closed?

It’s Fiesta time! By that I mean Fiesta Friday, this week #376. Come on over and join the party. Angie hosts and this week’s co-host is Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook

Fiesta Friday is a virtual (isn’t everything these days) collection of posts from a talented collection of bloggers. You will find tips for home maintenance, weddings, food, crafts and occasionally travel. I am taking this one over to share with the group.

June – Perfect Roast Chicken

June – Perfect Roast Chicken

In her classic book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (vol. 1), Julia Child states “You can always judge the quality of a cook or restaurant by roast chicken.” Roasting a chicken is certainly an important skill to master. Your own home cooked roast chicken will be miles better than any supermarket or deli chicken.

Julia’s method results in an excellent roast chicken. However it requires turning the chicken 4 times and basting every 10 minutes. Just reading the directions can be off putting. My own method doesn’t require any basting at all and only 1 turn. It results in crisp skin and juicy meat. I don’t truss because tying the legs close to the breast results in undercooked thigh or overcooked breast meat.

Here is the trick. I take advantage of the newest information on brining, and borrow a technique often used when roasting duck. I pre-salt the chicken and let it sit in the fridge (uncovered and breast up) for several hours or overnight. That’s the only preplanning that is required.

The perfect roast chicken starts with the quality of the chicken. Buy the best you can afford, preferably free range organic and air chilled. Water bath chilling results in the bird absorbing a lot of that soaking water. I also prefer the air chilled for food safety reasons, dozens of birds are not sitting in a vat of water. If one of the birds is contaminated it increases the chances that all will be contaminated as well.

The Perfect Roast Chicken

These are general directions.

Adjust the cooking time according to the weight of your chicken. I find it is done when the leg moves easily in the socket when jiggled. For a 4-5 pound chicken that will be somewhere between 50 and 70 minutes. There will be some personal preference determining the time. I don’t mind if the white meat has a very slight pink tinge, you may want to cook your own longer. Your oven temperature will also play a part. My oven runs hot, your own may run cool. It’s best to know those things, check your own with an oven thermometer. They are cheap and it will save you a lot of grief in the long run.

You can use an instant read thermometer for more precise measurements of doneness. Insert it into the thickest part of the thigh without hitting the bone. The FDA recommends cooking chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. I take mine out just before it reaches that temperature. The bird will continue to cook with the residual heat after it comes out of the oven. Allow it to sit on your carving board or platter for 15 minutes, that allows the juices to settle back into the meat.

Salted Chicken on a Rack Ready for the Fridge

Salted Chicken Ready for the Fridge

So here we go…

There are two methods for brining a bird. The first, and older method, is to submerge it in a salt water solution. The second is a dry brine, simply rub the chicken inside and out with a generous amount of kosher salt. I don’t use method the first method anymore, I am not partial to a vat of salty water taking up space in my fridge (a spill will create a big mess…I’ve been there). In addition, a water chilled bird is what I am trying to get away from. I want to intensify flavors, not dilute them.

Dry brining intensifies flavors and will give you crisp skin. I use kosher salt because it doesn’t contain any additives and has a clean flavor.

Remove the chicken from its wrapping and dry it with paper towels. The latest food safety recommendations are to not rinse it. Rub it generously with kosher salt, both inside and out. Put it on a rack in baking dish, breast side up, and place it in the fridge for at least an hour. If you have 24 hours you will be amazed at the result. Don’t go longer than 24 unless you are brining a turkey.

Take the chicken out of the fridge while you preheat your oven to 425 degrees F (218 degrees C). I don’t use the convection fan. Rub your chicken with olive oil and any flavorings you may want (I don’t worry about the salt). I have used my confit lemon oil and lemon slices with herbs to Provence (the aroma as it roasts is incredible), paprika, chili powder, roasted fennel spice, zatar, fresh herbs, etc. You can let your imagination run wild. But you will find this chicken is delicious with only a simple coating of olive oil.

Poke a few holes in a whole lemon and place that inside the chicken. You could also add a few sprigs of whatever fresh herb you have handy. The lemon adds additional flavor. You could even use an orange or a couple of limes (especially nice if you are giving the chicken a Mexican vibe).

Line your roasting pan with foil to make clean up easier. Rub a rack (V shaped if you have one) with oil and place the chicken breast down on the rack. Once your oven has reached 425 degrees F, place the chicken in the middle of the oven and roast for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, remove it from the oven and turn it breast side up, roast for an additional 25 minutes or until done.

Let the chicken rest for 15 minutes before carving.

Perfect Roast Chicken

Perfect Roast Chicken

Look at how moist and juicy! And the skin is super crisp.

I often serve the chicken with a simple salad, I pour some of those chicken juices over the salad as a dressing with an additional squeeze of lemon juice. The fresh salad below had sliced peaches and red onion as well as some avocado. The combination was delightful.

Perfect Roast Chicken

Perfect Roast Chicken Thigh

Perfect Roast Chicken

I’m taking this to Fiesta Friday to share with Angie and the gang. It’s Fiesta #279 and I am a co-host along with Jenny from Apply to Face Blog.

Click on the links to join the party or check out all the blogs about food, the garden, and crafts. You can also add your own link.

Thank you so much for visiting and I would love to hear your comments.