People are chicken crazy. I don’t know about your town but chicken wings are on the menu of almost every pub and sandwich shop in this town. With the recession dumbing down our finer dining options and essentially turning them into gourmet burger joints I half expect to find a chicken wing fancied up with some harissa or teetering on a slab of foie gras plopped on the menu between the duck rillettes and the Wagyu sliders. Then there are the ubiquitous chicken fingers. Made out of, of course, real chicken fingers. If chicken fingers were the Kool-Aid several generations have already drunk it and we should all be scared. Clearly, like any prejudice, I have an unfounded disdain for chicken. Quite possibly it comes from these milquetoasty food stuffs I suspect of brain-washing or rather palette-washing the masses. This is only my ‘impression’; I was a vegetarian for 23 years so I don’t have much experience with chicken except for some rather unmemorable childhood memories.
The roast or rotisserie chicken runs the gamut of down and dirty fast food masquerading as dinner to the sublime. Grocery stores have built monuments to it. When I go out of town, Jim heads straight to the Kroger for the bird in a bag and a container of macaroni salad. If there is a roasted chicken on the menu of any restaurant I’m dining in with my father I’ve got $1,000 that says my dad is going to order it. He will then, if it’s good, talk under his breath the whole time while eating it about how much he likes roast chicken. He might even get in a ‘man oh man‘ and start to sweat if it’s exceptional. I felt that this classic, the apple pie of poultry, needed to be faced so I could find out what all the hullabaloo is about. As the saying goes ‘If ten people tell you you are drunk, it’s time to sit down.’
I had read somewhere that one of Thomas Keller’s favorite meals is roasted chicken. That seemed like a solid place to start. Now, I have prepared a few TK items before, mainly from the Bouchon cookbook, including a quiche that took about three days to assemble and cook and a fourth day to finish eating. I Googled ‘Thomas Keller + Roast Chicken’ and got back another Bouchon recipe. It was shockingly direct; it said ‘Take bird, put in oven, come back in 50 minutes, enjoy the most delicious roasted chicken ever’. I exaggerate, but not by much. The chicken is everything a chicken should be, crispy skin, juicy meat and full of subtle flavor; you will pick the bones clean and you will lick your fingers. And I owe the bird an apology.
The TK recipe calls for a 2 – 3 lb. bird and serves two to three people with a side dish perfectly. However, what if there are more than two of you? Or what if you cannot find this oddly shaped bird? I have only been able to find that size bird at Whole Foods. The smallest chicken, not including the game hen, at most grocery stores and farmers’ markets in Atlanta is going to be just over 4 lbs. So if you don’t have access to the smaller organic chickens I have adapted the recipe for a standard commercially raised larger chicken below.
Roast Chicken with Thyme (or Rosemary) adapted from Thomas Keller - Serves 6
(1) 5lb. chicken
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons thyme or rosemary or both
Remove the giblet pack from inside the chicken, discard or save for another purpose, wash the chicken and pat it dry. Salt and pepper the cavity, truss the bird. TK directs that you ‘rain salt’ all over the bird and for this size bird I use about 1 1/2-2 tablespoons. Pepper the bird as desired. Place in a roasting pan and into a 450 degree oven, come back in an hour and fifteen minutes +/-, remove the bird from the oven, cut off the kitchen twine, sprinkle with the thyme and baste with it’s own juices and the herbs then let it rest for 15 minutes prior to carving.
Notes : I have cooked this dish in 4 different ovens and in half of the ovens 3/4 of the way through cooking chicken juice spatters all over the inside of the oven, making a smoky mess of the house and a disaster of the inside of the oven. It’s worth it you’re willing to suffer through it. Or when this happens to us, we (and by we I mean Jim) literally just places a piece of aluminum foil on top of the bird, so it is as ventilated as possible and the foil is just to redirect the grease in to the pan. Keep the bird uncovered as long as you can.
Please wash your hands well after touching the raw bird prior to touching anything else.
**I recently found 3lb. birds at Trader Joe's; they were labeled 'broiler chicken'.