If you can roast a chicken, you can serve dinner to anyone. It’s one of the basic cooking skills every self-respecting cook needs to have in his or her culinary toolbox. I saw this recipe on the Cook’s Illustrated site and wanted to try it. I’m always impressed with their tried and true methods; they’re simple, effective and they’re just good, solid food science. I added a twist or two of my own, too.
As part of the Chagrin Falls School District’s Bridge to the World Program, 15 students from Jeppe Boys High School in South Africa are visiting Chagrin Falls High School from September 20th to the 27th. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to host one of the Jeppe students, a charming and well-mannered young man named Christopher. I thought this dish would serve as a terrific example of American home cooking .
The Cook’s Illustrated technique has several things that are different from the standard roast chicken recipe:
CRANK THE HEAT- Turning the oven up to 450 degrees, instead of roasting at a more typical 350 to 375 degrees, ensures nicely browned, well-rendered skin.
USE A SKILLET- Swapping a roasting pan for a skillet allows the juices to pool deeper in its smaller surface area, so less evaporates and more is left over for pan sauce. Preheating the skillet ensures that the breast and thigh meat finish cooking at the same time.
“SEAR” THE THIGHS- Placing the bird breast side up onto the preheated skillet sears the thighs, giving them a head start so that the cook in sync with the delicate breast meat.
TURN OFF THE HEAT – Turning off the oven when the meat is halfway done allows the chicken to finish cooking very gently (it will rise 40 degrees) and not dry out.
Sounded good to me, so I went for it!
The Cook’s Illustrated recipe calls for a whole chicken, of course, but I’m using three large bone-in breasts and an 8-pack of drumsticks. The key to adapting the recipe is to pay attention to the temperature of the breasts as they roast. Here’s the original ingredients list:
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) whole chicken, giblets discarded
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 recipe pan sauce (optional) (recipe below)
In addition to the prepping the chicken as suggested below, I choose to brine my chicken parts using a variation of a brine from Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie: The Art of Salting, Smoking, and Curing consisting of water, kosher salt, sugar, bay leaves, garlic, black peppercorns, and rosemary. I’ve written about brining before and its virtues cannot be overstated. Once you try it, you’ll be hooked on the flavor and moistness it adds to your meats. Combine the brining ingredients and bring the mixture to a boil to dissolve the salt and sugar, then allow it to cool to room temperature then refrigerate until chilled. Add the chicken and place it back in the fridge for 8-12 hours for a 3-4 pound chicken. The parts I used required less brining time; about 2-3 hours.
Patting meat dry with paper towels before adding it to a hot pan ensures quick, flawless browning. Dry meat produces a crisp, dark, even sear and leaves behind a wonderfully flavorful golden fond that is the perfect base for pan sauces. Left wet, meat produces fond too quickly which burns and turns bitter before the meat finishes cooking leaving you no yummy goodness on which to base a sauce. The excess moisture remains trapped between the meat and the pan resulting in a softer sear than the dried meat.
To roast your chicken, adjust your oven rack to the middle position and place a 12-inch ovensafe skillet on rack–I’m using a cast iron skillet–and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Meanwhile, combine the salt and pepper in bowl. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and rub the entire surface with oil. Sprinkle the salt mixture evenly over the chicken and rub it in to coat the chicken evenly. For a whole chicken, tie the legs together with twine and tuck the wing tips behind the back.
Transfer the chicken, breast side up, to the preheated skillet in the oven. Roast chicken until the breasts register 120 degrees and thighs register 135 degrees, about 25 to 35 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the chicken in the oven until the breasts register 160 degrees and the thighs register 175 degrees, about another 25 to 35 minutes.
Move the chicken to a carving board and let it rest, uncovered, for 20 minutes. While the chicken rests, prepare the suggested pan sauce below, if you decide to use it. Then, carve and serve.
Tarragon-Lemon Pan Sauce
- 1 shallot , minced
- 2 garlic cloves , minced
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
- 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
While chicken rests, remove all but 1 tablespoon of fat from now-empty skillet using large kitchen spoon, leaving any fond and jus in skillet. Place skillet over medium-high heat, add shallot, garlic, and thyme; cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in chicken broth and mustard, scraping skillet bottom with wooden spoon to loosen fond. Cook until reduced to ¾ cup, about 3 minutes. Off heat, whisk in butter and vinegar. Season with pepper to taste; cover and keep warm. Serve with chicken.
I served my chicken with sautéed squash and onions. Simple and delicious!
- 6 medium summer squash, sliced
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 medium onion, sliced thinly or diced
- salt & pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the onion and a little salt and cook over medium heat until just tender. Add the yellow squash and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring until squash begins to soften. Cover and continue cooking over low heat until nice and tender (usually about 20-25 minutes). Add salt and pepper to taste.
What I Liked
As expected, the Cook’s Illustrated technique delivered flawlessly. The chicken cooked perfectly with a well-browned, somewhat crispy skin and was moist throughout. The seasoning combined with the light brining added a terrific flavor and finish to every bite. Plus, I love a recipe that cooks in a single pan! Coupled with the sautéed squash and onions it was a great meal that tasted like it took a lot longer to prepare. Cooking up all the pieces parts I had on hand means there’s another bonus: leftovers! And Christopher thoroughly enjoyed it!
What I Would Have Done Differently
Absolutely nothing. There are times, no matter how long you’ve been doing something, when you pause for just a moment to admire your own handiwork. As simple as this dish was to make, it was no less satisfying than more complex dishes I’ve prepared. So I’ve got that going for me. which is nice.