Editors' Picks

Battle of the Birds: Best Roast Chicken Contest

roast chicken painting by C Gilson

The French do it so well, and the rest of us, well, let’s just say, when it comes to roast chicken, we Americans are still works-in-progress. The reality that so many otherwise accomplished cooks won’t even attempt this basic dish is surprising given that roasting is easy, and chicken has been our country’s most popular meat for over two decades.

France’s superiority with fowl could have to do with breeding—the birds’ not the cooks’. But assuming preparation plays at least some role in the taste of food, we decided to hunt for the best recipe for a tasty and foolproof bird. 

We open this, the first Ladies Cyber Club recipe contest, with CA’s and AC’s favorite roast chicken recipes, both of which are based on years of reading cookbooks and puttering about the kitchen. Try both and then vote on the one you prefer. If you have a recipe that you think can outdistance both of them, by all means send it in, along with a brief description of its origins—who created it, where it was published, etc. If it is a recipe you invented, you get extra ego points, but the winner will be the one that tastes the best and is easiest to prepare.

We'll start with CA who writes: 

      “I am a sucker for chicken recipes. Who wouldn’t be?  Chicken is cheap, always available and, if done right, delicious. But here’s the rub. Too often a chicken’s preparation brings nothing but disappointment. So, in choosing this delicious one for our inaugural contest, I had some criteria. First, it just had to be delicious—EVERY TIME. Second, it had to be easy (I’ll leave the fussy prep to the restaurants). And, three, a hit with the fam. 

      “Only one bird filled the bill—Ina Garten’s recipe for ‘Perfect Roast Chicken.’ The name says it all. The recipe can be found online through the Food Network, in Ms. Garten’s great book, ‘The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook,’ and here:”

CA’S FAVORITE ROAST CHICKEN RECIPE
(courtesy of Ina Garten)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 (5- to 6-pound) roasting chicken
  •  Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large bunch fresh thyme, plus 20 sprigs
  • 1 lemon halved
  • 1 head garlic cut in half crosswise
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
  • 4 carrots cut into 2-inch chunk
  • 1 bulb of fennel, tops removed, and cut into wedges
  • Olive oil

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Remove the chicken giblets. Rinse the chicken inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pinfeathers and pat the outside dry. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, both halves of lemon, and all the garlic. Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle again with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Place the onions, carrots, and fennel in a roasting pan. Toss with salt, pepper, 20 sprigs of thyme, and olive oil. Spread around the bottom of the roasting pan and place the chicken on top.

Roast the chicken for 1 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. Remove the chicken and vegetables to a platter and cover with aluminum foil for about 20 minutes. Slice the chicken onto a platter and serve it with the vegetables. Copyright 1999, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, All Rights Reserved


 And now for AC, who writes:

       “To paraphrase Calvin Trillin, everyone thinks she has the best recipe for chicken, but someone has to be right, and it happens me. My favorite recipe for roast chicken is Thomas Keller’s ‘Favorite Simple Roast Chicken’ recipe. Keller, as you probably know, is an American chef and cookbook writer. His restaurants—French Laundry (Napa Valley, CA) Per Se (New York), and Bouchon (Los Angeles)—have won him more Michelin stars than any other American chef. His recipe for roast chicken is unbelievably moist flavorful, and foolproof. There is only one trick: the chicken has to be completely dry. If I don’t have time to dry the bird out in the refrigerator overnight, I whip out my hairdryer and give it a good going-over. Please note, that while CA’s recipe may have fewer words, mine has fewer ingredients and fewer steps. You be the judge which tastes better.

       “Keller’s recipe for roast chicken is unbelievably moist flavorful, and foolproof. There is only one trick: the chicken has to be completely dry. If I don’t have time to dry the bird out in the refrigerator overnight, I whip out my hairdryer and give it a good going-over. Please note, that while CA’s recipe may have fewer words, mine has fewer ingredients and fewer steps. You be the judge which tastes better.”

AC’S FAVORITE ROAST CHICKEN RECIPE
(courtesy of Thomas Keller) 

INGREDIENTS

  • One 2- to 3-pound farm-raised chicken
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoons minced thyme (optional)
  • Unsalted butter
  • Dijon mustard

PREPARATION

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Rinse the chicken, and 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 one 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 super elegant. 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.

Reprinted from Bouchon, by Thomas Keller, Copyright © 2004, published by Artisan.

Vote on which recipe you prefer in the form below. Or, after trying these, you think your recipe can top these, send it. Don't forget to press "submit" to record your answer. 

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