How to Roast the Perfect Chicken
A few months ago I watched all 4 episodes of Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix.These 4 elements she says, are the essential elements of good cooking. Once you understand this then you can build layers of flavour that’ll make anything taste good. And so with this in mind, I began to research and apply to everything I made and it quite literally changed the way I cooked.
One thing in particular that I can say I’ve mastered is roasting the perfect whole chicken, It's actually pretty difficult. You have to get both the flavour and the texture right- moist juicy meat with crispy golden skin. Using lessons from Samin, loads of research and a lot of trial and error, I’ve created this guide to help you roast the perfect bird. Master these 7 tips and you’ll be making your own Sunday roasts or 10kg thanksgiving turkey in no time.
1. Choose the Right Bird
For best results, it’s important to know what type of chicken to buy. Younger chickens are tender and cook quickly, older chickens need more time cooking and are better off in stews and braises. So look out for chickens 4 months old or younger or signs that say ‘roaster’. To make sure you buy enough chicken, a good rule of thumb when buying a whole bird is you want about 500g per person.
Also equally as important is the growing conditions of the chicken. Keywords to look out for are organic, grass-fed and no antibiotics. I recommend fresh chicken over frozen with no added ingredients (especially no saline) but if you only have access to a frozen bird, thaw it safely in your refrigerator for 2-5 days depending on the size of bird.
2. Prep the Bird Properly
DO NOT wash your raw chicken. It is the easiest way to spread harmful bacteria. The safest way to make sure your chicken is bacteria free is by cooking it! Your chicken may come with giblets inside its cavity. Remove these and store for later use and remove any feathers left on the bird.
3. Your Bird Loves Salt and Acid
“Salt enhances flavour”. Samin says that more than any other ingredient, it has the biggest impact on flavour. There are two ways to add salt to your chicken; a wet brine or a dry brine. A good brine will have a good mix of salt, spices and herbs and is where you build and deepen the flavours in your chicken.
a) Wet Brine: This is a salt water solution. The science behind it is plain old osmosis! Adding your chicken to a liquid with a higher concentration of salt causes the meat to pull in water keeping it moist while cooking. It also pulls in any flavourings added to the brine. Refrigerate the brine till it’s cold before you add the meat so it doesn’t start cooking the meat. Make sure the meat is fully submerged in the liquid and allow the meat to sit in the brine for at least 6 hrs.
The basic brine is typically around 7% salt. 1 litre water to 70g salt and some sugar. However, you can use other types of liquids e.g. stock, apple juice, beer, and my personal favourite; buttermilk.
Acid the third element balances out the overall flavour and tenderises the meat. Using a Buttermilk brine provides acid to tenderise the meat. Aromatics like lemons and oranges, work well with chicken and provide acid to tenderise the meat. Other herbs like thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, sage, garlic add flavour. There’s room to play around with spices in your brine and make the flavours your own.
**Make sure you’re extremely careful how you dispose of the brine afterwards and disinfect your kitchen/ sink/workspace afterwards.**
b) Dry brine: Here you’re seasoning the bird as you will the wet brine, but without the liquid. The benefit here is that it allows for an easier and sometimes safer cleanup. Pat the bird dry with a paper towel, then rub the salt (approx 1/2 teaspoon per 400g), seasoning, and sugar directly on the bird, under the skin and in the cavity, making sure to put extra on the breast as it's the thickest part of the bird. Place bird in fridge and cover very loosely with foil, allowing to air chill for 12 - 24hrs.
4. Pat Your Bird Dry for Crispy Skin
After brining, ensure that the chicken is dry before putting it in the oven. If using a wet brine, once out of brine, pat the bird dry and return back to the fridge to air dry. This removes the extra moisture that’ll prevent the skin from getting hot enough to get brown and crisp.
Bring your chicken out of the fridge at least 30 mins before cooking, to ensure it comes to room temperature before you put it in the oven.
5. Use Enough Fat!
It carries flavour and helps create textures. Fat helps to crisp and brown the skin evenly. (It's why using buttermilk to brine your chicken works so well!). Rubbing your chicken with oil right before it goes in the oven is one way to go. But if you’re feeling extra fancy, you can try a compound butter (butter whipped with herbs and spices of your choice) or Duck fat to add an extra rich flavour to your chicken.
6. Roast at the right temperature
Heat transforms your raw pale chicken into the delicious, golden brown goodness. Here you’re using your oven (duh) but the tools you use matter. I recommend a heavy bottom roasting pan with a rack. Using the rack will help crisp up the bottom skin. Make sure the pan has low sides as a pan with high sides will prevent the lower part of the bird from browning.
Place chicken with legs to the back as it takes the longest to cook and the back of the oven is the hottest. Roast your chicken uncovered but if areas are beginning to brown too much (e.g. the wings) you can always tent with foil.
For a bird 1kg or smaller preheat the oven to 180C fan and cook for about 50-60 min. The chicken must be cooked through before serving. So I recommend getting a thermometer!
This way you know when your chicken is ready. The thighs should read at an internal temperature of 165F/75C and breast at 155-160F (it will continue to cook due to residual heat to 165). If you don’t have one, then pierce the thickest part of the breast and make sure the juices run clear (no pink)
7. Let the Bird Rest
Once out of the oven, the chicken must rest. Let it rest for 15-30 mins depending on its size. This allows for the juices to redistribute so the meat is moist. If you carve too soon, the liquid will spill, leaving your meat dry.
So now why don’t you check out our classic roast chicken recipe and let us know how it goes!