cod cheeks test kitchen: roast chicken

by brendan on August 30, 2006

this is the first dispatch from the cod cheeks test kitchen on brannan st. in san francisco (not to be confused with the numurous other test kitchens we have spanning the globe), and we decided to go with a simple dish that actually has a lot of opinions on how to make it, roast chicken. asking a chef how to roast a chicken is like asking a high school kid to point to china on a map – you’re going to get a lot of different answers. we’ve tried quite a few – buttering the chicken before roasting it, rubbing it down with various spices, putting a lemon and an onion in the cavity, and many, many more. this time it was back to basics, and the results were one of the best chickens we’ve ever had.

the cod cheeks test kitchen, while it holds thomas keller up as mini-god (ask us about how we missed the chance to have dinner at his house – make sure to bring the kleenex), didn’t have any of his ‘official’ cook books, a situation that was remedied last week when we received ‘bouchon’ as a 1st wedding anniversary present. we must say it is a beautiful book with some great recipes, incredible detail, and fantastic photography. the very first recipe, before anything else, is simple roast chicken.

the best part of the recipe is the simplicity.

1) wash the chicken, pat it dry (make sure it is completely dry) – turn oven on to 450 degrees

2) sprinkle kosher salt and pepper in the cavity

3) truss the chicken (here is a good diagram of how to truss a chicken), which makes it easier to handle and cook more evenly.

4) sprinkle another two tablespoons or so of salt on the chicken as well as some ground pepper.

5) put in a large saucepan or roasting pan and put in the oven for 50-60 minutes depending on the size of the bird (i had 4 1/2 pounder and took the full 60 minutes).

6) remove from the over and put on the stovetop, add about 2-3 teaspoons of minced fresh thyme to the juices, then baste the chicken.

7) remove from the pan and let sit on a cutting board for 15 minutes.

8) cut chicken down the middle breast into two pieces, slather some unsalted butter on the meat and serve with dijon on the side.

that was it, and it produced a very juicy flavorful chicken with a beautiful brown skin. we did cheat a little bit though – we did steps 1 through 4 a day ahead of time, and then refrigerated. this is a little trick we picked up from a friend of ours who told us it is the secret to the famous roast chicken at zuni cafe here in san francisco. in general, she told us if you can plan it out, buy any meat two days ahead of time, salt it, and then refrigerate. after doing this a few times, we can tell you it is spot on. we were initially put off with the idea of not buttering the chicken before roasting it, thinking that was the secret to the beautiful brown color, but keller’s recipe assured us that the salt would do the trick (and the butter creates steam, which takes away from the crispness) and he was right – how could we ever have doubted him?

in the end the tasters agreed it was pretty damn good chicken – simple to make, hard to screw up, and delicious.

next up we are going to tackle some salmon rilletes – any recipe that involves clarified butter is ok in our book. .. .

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