5 steps to a perfect roast chicken

Detroit Free PressOctober 23, 2013 

I am often asked: What is the best way to roast a chicken?

Roasting a whole chicken is something everyone should know how to do. Even the late, great doyenne of the culinary world, Julia Child, would agree.

“A well-roasted chicken is the mark of a fine cook,” she wrote in “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home” (Knopf, $40), a cookbook she coauthored with celebrity chef Jacques Pepin.

It really is simple. Whether you buy a free range, organic, fryer or roaster, or any other grocery-store chicken, it will make for a fine dinner. I often suggest roasting two at once. It will save time and energy, and offer plenty for leftovers.

My steps to a perfect roast chicken are: brine, rinse, dry, roast, rest.

It sounds like a lot, but it’s not.

Brining ensures moistness. The basic brine is water and salt. For a 4- to 5-pound chicken, make a brine with about 1 gallon of water and 1 cup kosher salt. Sometimes, I change it up and use 1/2 cup kosher salt and 1/2 cup sugar. You also can substitute cider, juices and even beer or wine for some of the water.

Dissolve the water and salt in a big pot, and submerge the chicken in it. Put the submerged chicken in the refrigerator, and allow it to soak for about 5 to 6 hours. It’s not exact, but for a whole chicken, figure about one hour of brining time per pound of chicken.

After brining, take out the chicken, discard brine and rinse the chicken inside and out under cold water. Place it on a platter, pat it dry and place it back in the refrigerator for an hour to dry the skin. Take it out of the refrigerator an hour before roasting.

Season the chicken inside and out with salt and pepper. If you like, you can add savory vegetables to the cavity to add flavor: a cut-up onion, a celery rib or two with some leaves attached and a few cloves of garlic.

Place the chicken on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Using a rack ensures that the chicken browns and that the skin evenly crisps on all sides. Use kitchen twine to tie the legs together.

Add some chicken broth or water to the bottom of the pan to prevent the pan drippings from burning.

To roast, I always start at about 400-425 degrees for the first 20 minutes and then dial it down to 350 degrees for about another hour. I’ve read about starting it out low and then increasing the temperature to make sure the chicken browns evenly. Either way works.

The chicken is done when it reaches 165 degrees in the breast and thigh. If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, it’s a good idea to invest in one.

Remove the chicken from the oven, and let it rest about 10 minutes before carving.

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