The Perfect Roast Chicken, modified from Chef Thomas Keller's Method

The Perfect Roast Chicken, modified from Chef Thomas Keller's Method

Though you may know us for being a Michigan based company, one of our employees Natalie Seymour, actually spent several of her early professional years cooking and baking for Chef Thomas Keller in Napa, CA.

One of the great joys of herr time there was the weekly tradition of roasting whole chickens for Friday night staff meal. The distinct aroma of a perfectly cooked chicken-- moist and tender meat beneath a burnished crackling skin-- is one of life’s greatest comforts. The method below is adapted from Chef Keller’s now famous recipe. One would be hard pressed to think of a more simple, elegant, and refined centerpiece for the dinner table.

There are nearly as many methods for roasting a chicken as there are cooks in the world; the beauty of this method is in its simplicity and preparation. A short period of “dry-aging” ensures crispy skin without the need to manipulate temperature or timing while roasting, and the omission of aromatic ingredients such as vegetables or citrus ensures that the oven stays dry. Just keep reading and once you're done you can leave and go buy what you need to make this mouth watering masterpiece.

Some recipes call for the addition of aromatics and vegetables to the pan, but in repeated trials and tests, we have found they emit too much steam while cooking, and compromise the quality of the crispy skin. Moisture while cooking is the enemy of crispy skin. 

Ah, but how will we ensure that the meat stays juicy and flavorful, if we are drying out the meat before cooking? 

I know we were worried too...An optional overnight brine will season the meat throughout and ensure maximum moisture retention, and a pH boost in the form of baking soda (a technique inspired by J. Kenji López-Alt) will contribute greatly to browning without impacting flavor.

Some may feel a little intimidated by the prospect of trussing and cooking a whole chicken, just remember, its a chicken, you're a human, you got this. So long as you approach the task with the “courage of your convictions,” (to quote culinary hero Julia Child), you will find the results rewarding as well as delectable. 

In order to let the true flavor of our pasture raised all-natural chickens shine, we will be keeping the recipe very simple. You will need:

  • 1 Whole Chicken, 3-4 lbs

  • 1 Gallon warm water

  • 1 ½ Cups sea salt, plus additional salt to taste

  • ½ Cup granulated sugar

  • 3 Tbsp baking soda

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • Fresh ground black pepper

  • 2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme 

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

Step 1: FOR THE OPTIONAL BRINE: Two days before serving: Heat a gallon of water just enough to dissolve 1 ½ Cups of salt, ½ Cup sugar, and 3 Tablespoons of baking soda. Mix well and allow the brine to cool before submerging the chicken breast-side down in the brine. Place the brining chicken in the refrigerator overnight. The brine will help season the meat throughout, and the addition of baking soda will, as when baking pretzels, increase alkalinity on the surface of the meat, which will oxidize impressively in the oven, elevating the chicken to a beautiful “Normal Rockwell painting” style golden brown without the need for excessive temperatures or basting. The brine is not necessary, but your extra patience planning will be rewarded with superior texture and flavor at dinner time.

Step 2: Preparing the Chicken- The day before you wish to serve. Since steam is the enemy of crispy skin, we will need to dry the chicken. Remove the chicken from the brine and let it drip dry well. Pat the entire chicken dry with paper towels, inside and out. Place uncovered on a roasting rack set over a sheet tray to ensure even airflow, and refrigerate overnight, or up to 3 days. This is a method borrowed from the traditional Peking Duck preparation, wherein the bird is allowed to "dry age" for up to 7 days, resulting in a glassy skin.

B: About two hours before serving, remove from the refrigerator and rub 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over the breast and legs. This will not only ensure the seasoning adheres, but will also conduct heat in the oven, contributing to a crispy skin and even color. Next, season well with salt and pepper. 

Step 3:Trussing the Chicken: Cooking a chicken can be difficult due to its irregular shape and the presence of a hollow cavity in the center of the bird. Trussing or tying the chicken will minimize temperature variance in the meat as it cooks, and will keep the chicken uniformly shaped for carving. First, fold the wing tips back behind the breast. Next, Take an approximately 24 inch long piece of butcher’s twine (included in your subscription box) and, starting at the center of the length of twine, bring the twine up under both legs. Cross the twine, and loop under the legs again to create a Figure-8 loop. Bring the ends of the twine around the thigh and breast, over the wings, to meet up by the neck. Pull the skin of the breast down over the neck so it will be held taut, and tie the twine in a tight knot. Trim off any excess twine. Allow the chicken to come to room temperature for about an hour while you preheat the oven to 425*. 

Step 4: Roasting the Chicken- Place the trussed and seasoned chicken breast-side up in a cast iron or heavy bottom, oven-safe pan. There’s no need to put butter or oil in the pan, as the chicken fat will render as it cooks, providing plenty of fat. Set the chicken on a rack in the lower third of a 425 degree oven, and roast uncovered for 40 minutes.

Step 5: After about 40 minutes, your kitchen will be full of the aroma of a perfectly roasted chicken (you are so welcome!), but the meat may still have a little ways to go until done. It is at this point that you will sprinkle the chopped thyme and minced garlic over the chicken. Adding these aromatics any sooner will cause them to burn. Turn the pan around 180 degrees for even cooking, and return the chicken to the oven for another 10-15 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted in the  thickest part of the thigh registers 155 degrees.

Step 6: Resting and Serving- Once the chicken reaches 155 degrees, carefully remove it from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes. This resting period will allow the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in a juicier final dish, and will also allow carryover cooking to bring the meat up to a temperature of 160-165 degrees. If you wish to serve this chicken with roasted vegetables, toss them into the pan with the chicken drippings, and return to the oven until done while the chicken rests. Cut off the best bit- the crispy pope’s nose (chicken tail) and enjoy it as a “chef’s treat” before serving. Remove the twine, and carve as desired.

Step 8: Serving Suggestions: Serve simply with crusty bread or roasted potatoes, and sauteed vegetables or a fresh green salad, slathering the chicken with butter or dijon mustard. Enjoy with a glass of sauvignon blanc or a French chardonnay. The leftover chicken will make a lovely addition to a pasta dish or salad the next day, and the bones can be used to make stock or soup.

With these simple steps, a little preparation, and a bit of confidence, you can masterfully prepare a whole chicken that is sure to impress, satisfy, and endure among your most beloved recipes!

Remember, with a recipe as simple as this, the most important thing is to mind the virtue of process. Following the preparation steps will give your chicken all it needs to shine on its own, without convoluted techniques or elaborate accompaniments- just the way the French intended food to be eaten.