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Best So Far Roast Chicken

I have tried countless ways to cook a roast chicken, varying the method and seasonings each time. I’m always aiming for crisp brown skin, moist and flavourful meat and if I can avoid a smokey kitchen and messy oven, so much the better. It’s hard to get all of these going at once. But now I think I’ve found the best roast chicken yet and I’ll stick with this recipe for now, which was inspired by a combination of two chefs’ versions, credited below.

I began by following the seasoning as instructed by Judy Rodgers in the Zuni Café Cookbook, refrigerating the chicken for 3 days. Please go straight to the next step of the recipe here if you don’t have time for this, but this is what helps to flavour and moisten the finished product. Fresh thyme can be substituted for the rosemary.

I then switched to another method of cooking the chicken, at a slightly lower oven temperature than the Zuni version, in a Dutch oven to reduce the oven splatters, and with an enticing idea that Dorie Greenspan writes about in Around My French Table. You place a couple of baguette slices in the pot, then place the chicken on top of them and when the roasting is done you have the most delicious crunchy tasty bits of bread to eat along with the chicken – although as Dorie writes, and we can confirm, the bits are so good they don’t make it to the table. You can see them in the finished photo.

1 chicken, 3-4 pounds
4 sprigs of rosemary, plus 2 sprigs for roasting
2 t. Kosher salt
freshly cracked black pepper
2 thick slices baguette or 1 thick slice of bread
1 garlic head, cut horizontally in half, unpeeled
2/3 c. white wine, or dry Vermouth, or chicken stock
4 small potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
2 carrots, peeled and cut into thick chunks
4 shallots, peeled and left whole or halved if large

Season the chicken: Remove and discard the fat inside the chicken. Rinse it well and pat with paper towels until it is very dry, inside and out. Slide your a finger under the skin of each breast to make a pocket for the rosemary, and do the same on the thighs. Season the chicken well all over, including the inside cavity. Tuck the wing tips underneath the chicken. Cover loosely and refrigerate for 1-3 days.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let it sit for about an hour to bring it close to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 450º. Wipe the chicken dry with paper towels and put 2 sprigs of rosemary and one garlic half in the cavity. Place the bread in the bottom of the Dutch oven and the chicken on top. Put the other garlic half and the wine in the pot. Roast uncovered for 45 minutes.

Toss the potatoes, carrots and shallots with enough oil to lightly coat them, season with salt and pepper and place them around the chicken. Roast for another 45 minutes, or until the juices run clear when you pierce the thickest part of the thigh with the tip of a knife.

Remove the chicken from the oven, place it on a platter, and let it rest for 10 minutes. Dorie suggests placing a cereal bowl at one end of the platter and putting the chicken, breast side down, with the tail leaning on the bowl, to get the juices back into the breast meat while it’s resting. I followed this step and I think it contributed to the end result. Carve the chicken and serve with the vegetables. Serves 2, with plenty of leftovers or 4 if you add more vegetables.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kathleen Keating #

    Diane, this worked beautifully — even though I misread the instructions and put the lid on my pot. The chicken was still perfectly browned, but there was more liquid left in the bottom than there should have been. Instead of being crispy, the bread bits were mistaken for dumplings — but still delicious. Next time, I’ll try following the instructions and see what happens!

    January 31, 2012
  2. Good to hear that the chicken and the bread bits tasted good…instructions are not always that important (except for baking) and it sounds like cooking this dish covered turned out a slightly different result, but still delicious. I’m always keen to get these kind of comments so I know how the recipes work for others, and having read this, I went in and added “uncovered” to my instructions. So, thanks for the feedback!

    January 31, 2012
  3. Barbara Shumiatcher #

    Dear Diane:
    I’m so grateful to you for this best yet roast chicken recipe. I’ve made it under different conditions – delicious every time. In the Dutch oven, i found it less crisply browned than I like it – but it was still a huge success! Then, moving around from pillar to post waiting for our condo to be ready and so cooking in kitchens with scanty equipment, it still works beautifully. The treatment 2 or 3 days ahead is one thing that makes it special. Next, the bread undercoat is inspiring. I’ve taken to using panini type
    breads…sometimes they burn! sometimes the wine seems to prevent browning, but whatever happens, the bird tastes heavenly. Last time I added a lemon, pierced all over, which I placed in the cavity of the chicken along with the halved garlic head. (Oh that Marcella!) Very nourishing indeed, dear Diane. I thank you, my kids thank you and friends who lift an eyebrow seeing this wonder come out of my closet kitchen thank you very much! xxxBarbara

    December 24, 2012

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