If you, like so many people in quarantine, are just now discovering cooking, you might be contemplating roasting a chicken. But looking over directions, you may be confused. And rightly so. The advice ranges madly. Even recipes that tout their own simplicity overcomplicate matters.
You will be told to heat the oven to 325°F, to 375°F, to 450°F. You will be told to take the bird and brine it in salted water overnight. Or to rub it down with salt and sugar and spices. Or to leave its skin exposed in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours. Or to pat dry the skin. Or to blow dry the skin. Or to put butter under the skin. Or to pour hot butter over the skin as the chicken cooks. (Or to not do this.) Or to remove the wishbone. Or, in language that gets weirdly lascivious, to “spatchcock” the bird, to “bone” the bird. Or to do things with kitchen twine that seem more suited to a kink guide.
The fact is you need to do almost none of this for a satisfying roasted chicken (you do need to turn the oven on). Here, in the most basic terms, is what you must do.
- a chicken (I like those from Stokesberry Sustainable Farm and Skagit River Ranch)
- kosher salt
- an ovenproof pan (I use a cast-iron skillet or a steel saute pan)
- a thermometer
- optional: black pepper
- If you can, take the chicken out of the refrigerator an hour or so before you cook it. Pull out any organs in the cavity. Salt assertively inside and out (pepper if you like). With a paring knife, pierce holes in the skin flaps between the legs and the rest of the body (see image above). Stick the opposite leg through the hole (the image above goes same side, but I disagree). Repeat on other side. This is the easy way to avoid trussing the bird, but if you have twine, you can also just tie the ankle area together. Or skip it all. You do you.
- Preheat the oven to 450°F. (You can go cooler, but it'll cook slower.)
- Put the chicken in the pan. Put the pan in the hot oven. Since ovens run at different heats and chickens come in various sizes (2–6 pounds), check on it after an hour. Stick the thermometer into the thickest part, where the leg and body meet (be sure you don’t go into the body cavity). You want to hit 165°F. If it’s not there, but close, check again in 10 minutes. If it’s not close, check later.
- When it’s cooked, take it from the oven, let it sit for at least 10 minutes. Then cut it up, or rip it apart with your hands. Put some butter and flaky salt on the meat. Eat it with a salad and some of that bread you made. I eat the legs and thighs fresh and use the breast meat to make sandwiches or salads. The bones should be turned to broth.