While roasting chicken is a fairly simple endeavor—at least it can be; like anything I suppose it can be made as complicated as you want—I can count on one hand how many times I’ve made it during the week. For me it’s all about the weekend, Sundays in particular. The leftovers can be used in numerous ways all week and it’s just the thing to cap off a leisurely weekend. It must run in the family because my mom also tends to make roast chicken on Sundays down in Raleigh.

This past week I was perusing Cook’s Illustrated, one of the best food publications in a very crowded market. (I’d also add a plug for the Art of Eating, Edward Behr’s quarterly from Vermont.) The website featured a dish called Weeknight Roast Chicken, and it caught my attention because, as the weather turns cooler, I turn on the oven. And I have a bit of a thing for roast chicken recipes. It’s such a simple dish yet each cook has quite a personal, specific method for how to make it just so. So when a chef I like, or in this case a magazine, shares a recipe for the dish, I pay attention, curious to see if I’ll learn any new tricks. A personal favorite is Simon Hopkinson’s from his book Roast Chicken and Other Stories.

Cook’s Illustrated never fails to disappoint. With an army of testers they publish only airtight recipes. This method calls for preheating the skillet in a 450-degree oven then turning off the heat halfway through. This makes for a nicely browned bird that retains its juices. The pre-heated skillet gives the thighs a jumpstart on cooking. The seasoning is merely salt and pepper sprinkled over the bird that has been coated with a tablespoon of olive oil. I inserted half a lemon and a half a bulb of garlic to the bird’s cavity. You don’t want to crowd the bird too much with stuffing, which slows the cooking. To the skillet I added chopped carrots, shallots, and garlic cloves, sprinkled with just a little salt and olive oil. Next time I’d add a little smoked paprika to the chicken’s skin before cooking.

I served the bird with a pear-endive-blue cheese salad, dressed with a lemon-mustard vinaigrette, and a shiitake mushroom rice pilaf.

Roast Chicken, easy enough for a weeknight, proper enough for a Sunday
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

Kosher salt
Black pepper
1 (3 1/2 to 4 lb) whole chicken
1 tbsp olive oil or softened butter
1/2 lemon
1/2 to 1 clove of garlic
optional: a few sprigs of rosemary or thyme

1. Adjust the oven rack to its middle position and place a 12-inch ovenproof skillet (like cast iron) on the rack. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Clean the chicken and pat dry thoroughly with a towel. Rub the entire surface with the oil or butter. Sprinkle evenly with about 1 tbsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of pepper. Place the lemon, garlic, and herbs if using into the bird’s cavity. Tie the legs together with twine and tuck the wings behind back.

2. Transfer the chicken breast-side up to the pre-heated skillet. Careful when handling the hot skillet. Roast the chicken at 450 until the breasts are 120 degrees and the thighs 135 degrees, 25 to 35 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the chicken in for another 25 to 35 minutes, until the breasts register 160 degrees and the thighs 175.

3. Transfer to a serving dish and let the chicken rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes if you’re starving and 20 minutes if you can stand it.

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