Ah Thomas Keller, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Ok, so right now, it's only one way but I like to believe loving someone for their roast chicken is truly the purest kind of love. See, this past weekend, I roasted a chicken using Thomas Keller's famous recipe.
Yeah, yeah, all you foodies have been roasting chickens since you were ten years old. You sleep with a copy of Bouchon under your pillow. Your carving skills rival that of a samurai. Oh, and you would never dream of using jarred, or worse yet, powdered gravy. Well sue me (no don't, I don't practice in that area of law and I really wouldn't know what to do if you sued me). I have qualms sticking my hand up a bird's tukus. Plus, we've already established that I have limited experience with meat that is not sold in a neatly packaged styrofoam tray. Oh, and I work. All the time. There are days when it takes all my energy to eat a bowl of cereal for dinner. So roasting a chicken was a big deal. A big, hand-covered-in-chicken-butt-juices deal.
But I digress (often). Generally, I'll do a semi-thorough review of various recipes before cooking something new. Ideally, this happens before shopping so I can make sure to purchase the correct ingredients. See, there is some method to my madness. Well, on this Sunday, the recipe review came before cooking (but well after shopping). What, it had been a long week. I found that some of the recipes roasted vegetables on the side of the bird. This sounded great in theory. Vegetables drenched and roasted in chicken juices? Even a staunch carnivore like myself was on board for these vegetables. Theoretically, I would've used carrots, new potatoes, mushrooms and pearl onions. Because I did not plan ahead (story of my life), I was limited to using potatoes.
I gave my potatoes an oil, butter, garlic, salt, pepper and parsley bath and plopped 'em around the side of the bird.
Time for the disaster portion of this story (because you know every story has a disaster portion). In the recipe reading phase, I'd recognized the potatoes would cook much faster than the chicken, particularly because I'd cut them smaller to ensure more browning. I don't know how I planned to handle this. I guess I thought I'd pull them out while the chicken continued cooking? Yup, they were on the same pan as the chicken. The same, surprisingly heavy pan. And yup, the oven was scrochingly hot. Needless to say, I didn't think this through.
At about the half-way mark, I peered into the oven and noted the potatoes had a lovely golden hue and it was time to pull them out. But the chicken was clearly not cooked. And I remembered Keller-san's instructions about leaving the chicken alone and ensuring no steam entered this equation. So I stayed glued to the oven door, watching many of my potoates get darker and darker (and I cried a little). Bottom line, the roasted potatoes were more like potato chips by the end.
But the chicken? The glorious, magnificent chicken? It was truly beautiful. I used the juices to whip up a quick pan gravy (because deep down, I really like the 1950's housewife routine). And to prevent this story from becoming a little too Stepford Wives, I busted open a can of Pillsbury biscuits to serve alongside my beautifully roasted chicken and potato chips.
So Mr. Keller, thank you for adding roast chicken to my cooking repertoire. Would it be creepy to send you a love letter? Yup, I thought so.
One 2- to 3-pound farm-raised chicken
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons minced thyme (optional)
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Rinse the chicken, then dry it very well with paper towels, inside and out. The less it steams, the drier the heat, the better.
Salt and pepper the cavity, then truss the bird. Trussing is not difficult, and if you roast chicken often, it's a good technique to feel comfortable with. When you truss a bird, the wings and legs stay close to the body; the ends of the drumsticks cover the top of the breast and keep it from drying out. Trussing helps the chicken to cook evenly, and it also makes for a more beautiful roasted bird.
Now, salt the chicken—I like to rain the salt over the bird so that it has a nice uniform coating that will result in a crisp, salty, flavorful skin (about 1 tablespoon). When it's cooked, you should still be able to make out the salt baked onto the crisp skin. Season to taste with pepper.
Place the chicken in a sauté pan or roasting pan and, when the oven is up to temperature, put the chicken in the oven. I leave it alone—I don't baste it, I don't add butter; you can if you wish, but I feel this creates steam, which I don't want. Roast it until it's done, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove it from the oven and add the thyme, if using, to the pan. Baste the chicken with the juices and thyme and let it rest for 15 minutes on a cutting board.
Remove the twine. Separate the middle wing joint and eat that immediately. Remove the legs and thighs. I like to take off the backbone and eat one of the oysters, the two succulent morsels of meat embedded here, and give the other to the person I'm cooking with. But I take the chicken butt for myself. I could never understand why my brothers always fought over that triangular tip—until one day I got the crispy, juicy fat myself. These are the cook's rewards. Cut the breast down the middle and serve it on the bone, with one wing joint still attached to each. The preparation is not meant to be superelegant. Slather the meat with fresh butter. Serve with mustard on the side and, if you wish, a simple green salad. You'll start using a knife and fork, but finish with your fingers, because it's so good.