Perfect Roast Chicken

8 Nov

For Christmas, my brother Chris gave me a book entitled Eat Like a Man.  It’s a compilation of recipes from a column by the same name in Esquire Magazine, a publication that has the exemplary writing of Playboy without, you know, those other superfluous parts of Playboy, like Hugh Hefner.   The day after he gave me the book, on Christmas morning, I cracked it open and read almost the entire book by noon.  It’s a combination of man logic (a “me like food” and “sex now” sort of angle), stripped down recipes that showcase the reasons to eat with true gusto, and the ways to put them all together, as in pairings, serving ideas, etc.   I also found out that there is a blog for it:  It continues on from where the book leaves off and provides yet further recipes and cocktails for the balls-out cook and gourmand.  Surely down the road, I will write about many of the recipes therein, but the one I have cooked about six times in as many weeks is the Roast Chicken.

It’s funny.  I have spent years trying figure out how to roast a chicken to make it look like this Norman Rockwell painting:

The guy who submitted the recipe for the book, a legitimate chef named Linton Hopkins from Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta, notes that he finally had it down after chef school.  Like him, I put butter under the skin and melted some over it, and rubbed it with herbs, salt, pepper, spices from parts of the world that Ken from Jeopardy would know, cloves of garlic, and lots of genuine love.

I also tried to learn how to truss a chicken; you know, the fancy knot tying trapese act that would inevitably cause the chicken legs to slip out of the loops I had made with the kitchen twine into a position reminiscent of an eastern European porn video, or so I heard.  In any case, unlike Mr. Hopkins from Atlanta, my chickens never looked like Norman Rockwell’s, so I finally gave up and stuck with boneless chicken breasts or BBQ for a while.

And then this book came along with this roast chicken recipe in it, and I can say that I am a changed and much more confident, happier man and cook.  This is the best roast chicken I have ever tasted, honest.   To make sure I wasn’t imagining things upon reading the recipe, I looked up his idea (which is basically to roast a bird at a very high temperature, with just salt and pepper, in a cast iron skillet or roasting pan) for reassurance.

Sure enough, I found this recipe from the main and influential dude, Thomas Keller, of The French Laundry in Napa:

He too attests to this simplified roast chicken and how it is just how a chicken should be roasted: no bullshit.  I kind of put these two recipes together and got to my version.  So, here goes…

Perfect Roast Chicken


1 whole chicken, 4 to 5 pounds

1 tablespoon of salt or more to taste

1 tablespoon of freshly cracked pepper or more to taste

2 springs of rosemary or an onion or another herb or a lemon

Dijon mustard or gravy as dipping sauces

Makin’ It:

Preheat the oven to 450°F.  Yes, it’s supposed to be that hot.

Take the gizzard out of the chicken and wash the guy inside and out.

The next part is key:  dry the chicken until it’s bone dry.  As the two above chefs note, if you don’t, you’ll steam it rather than roast it if it’s not dried enough.  Here is our guest of honor before the roast:

(Notice the wine glass hasn’t even been filled yet…the only tragedy in this picture.)

Put this in the oven for an hour and get the side dishes together or do some laundry or play with the kids or grade some papers.

After an hour, it should be done and the thermometer inserted in the thick part of the thigh should be 165° to 170°.  I often was perplexed about this “thickest part of the thigh” thing, so I looked it up.  I took a picture for the world in the hope that it will go viral.  This is what it looks like both done and with the correct placement of the thermometer:

Let it rest for at least 10 minutes before carving and serving it.

The skin you see here is a crisp, salty, and fatty morsel (see also: bar wench).  Underneath is some of the tenderest chicken you will ever taste.  The high heat crisps the skin and traps the moisture. So simple and so genius.

Here is a site to learn you how to carve a chicken, which is easy once you get the hang of it: .

You can serve this with gravy and mashed potatoes, or anything, really.  The chicken alone is enough to make you cry.  It’s so tender that you will start just using your hands, as Keller points out in his recipe.  His suggestion of dipping your bites in dijon mustard is no joke, either.

This is so easy and good that anyone can do it and make everyone happy.

Drink:  White wine of any sort is excellent, but if you go the red route, stick to a light Pinot or something comparable.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.


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