Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Friday Dinner: High Roast Chicken

This last Friday, Jade and I roasted a chicken. Well, what passes for roasting these days (it's really just baking) -- there was no open fire or anything. I've baked my share of chickens, but I've always found it kind of annoying to have to baste it repeatedly in order to achieve that lovely golden skin all over, it took what seemed a long time, I never found a marinade that really pleased me consistently, and even when it was done cooking, it wasn't the end of the meal preparation, as I'd still have to make sides.

I think this method of cooking chicken has managed to accomplish the impressive feat of solving all those problems. First, the skin is crispy and nearly golden all over (enough to satisfy me) without requiring any basting at all. Second, it takes 40 minutes to roast. Third, flavoring it is very simple and really delicious. And finally, with a little extra effort, you're making a yummy side at the same time. It's great!



The key to even browning and quick cooking is butterflying the chicken by cutting out the backbone. If you have really good kitchen shears, this may not pose much of a challenge for you. I have mediocre kitchen shears and I was able to cut it out with moderate effort -- nothing that made me break a sweat. Trix wasn't so lucky; her shears didn't do the job and so she ended up using a knife, but that is definitely not the ideal method for removing the backbone (you end up hacking other parts you don't want to be hacking at).

The other thing you need for this is a broiling pan -- both the top part with slits in it and the roasting pan it goes on top of. While the chicken roasts, its delicious juices trickle through the slits into the bottom ... which will have a layer of lovely scalloped potatoes! Make sure you cover it with foil for easy cleaning, and make sure you spray cooking oil on the foil to help the potatoes brown (if you forget, as both Trix and I did, the potatoes won't brown nicely -- though at that point you could layer them in a cast iron pan and cook at high heat until they are golden and crisp). If you like, you can make a second side, something with color, like baby carrots or green beans. Since I had half a head of cabbage in the fridge, I went for the tried and true spicy stir-fry cabbage that I love so much.

The flavoring of the chicken comes from brining (which needs at least an hour, or overnight) and an easy flavored butter that you make from mixing unsalted butter with Dijon mustard, thyme, garlic, and pepper. The mustard seems very strong once it's mixed in, and I was afraid that the resulting meat would taste too much like mustard -- but that was not the case at all. It mellowed while baking into something amazingly tasty.

To get even more mileage out of your chicken, I really recommend saving the bones and making a flavorful stock from it. Because it's only been cooked for 40 minutes, there's still plenty of chicken essence to be eked out.

Now that we know this recipe, it's going to be hard to buy one of those ready-made rotisserie chickens in the market again!

High Roast Chicken


  • a 3 to 4 pound chicken
  • 2 ½ pounds potatoes, peeled (preferably ones with a lot of starch, such as russets)
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp of olive oil, divided
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the brine

  • 2 quarts of water
  • ¼-½ cup table salt (to taste -- ¼ cup is on the bland side)
  • ½ cup sugar

For the flavored butter

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • Pinch of pepper


  1. Prepare the brine, at least an hour before you plan to roast the chicken or overnight. Mix the salt and sugar into the water and make sure it’s dissolved well. Place the chicken in the brine and leave for about an hour, or overnight. Cover and put into refrigerator.
  2. In the meanwhile, prepare the flavored butter. Mix all the ingredients except for the pepper. Let it sit until you are ready to flavor the chicken.
  3. Place a rack on the lower middle rung of the oven and preheat to 500°F.
  4. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and rinse it off (remaining sugar crystals on the skin will burn). Pat the chicken dry. If there's visible fat, use the paper towel you're using to pat dry to simply pull it off and discard.
  5. Butterfly the chicken by cutting out the backbone with kitchen shears (use the tail as guidelines on where to cut). Flatten the chicken down by pressing on it with the heel of your palm – you will probably hear bones break.
  6. Stretch out the pockets of chicken skin around the breasts, thighs, and legs – this will not only create crevices for the butter, but will separate the skin from the flesh, which will make for a crispier skin.
  7. Add a pinch of pepper to the flavored butter and mix. Put dollops of butter under the chicken skin on the breasts, thighs, and legs, massaging the butter in through the skin.
  8. If the chicken is still wet, pat it as dry as possible. (At this point, you could put it in the refrigerator overnight on a sheet pan to get rid of even more moisture.)
  9. Place the chicken on top of a broiling pan. Rub it with 1 tsp of olive oil and sprinkle some pepper on top.
  10. Line the bottom of the broiling pan with heavy duty aluminum foil. Spray it with nonstick cooking spray.
  11. Fit the slicing blade attachment to a food processor. Scallop the peeled potatoes by placing them one at a time through the feeding tube. If a potato won’t fit, peel off some more or use a knife to cut off a small amount until it will fit.
  12. Place the potatoes in a large bowl and season with 1 tbsp of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. (Remember, the chicken drippings will also season the potatoes, so don’t over season during this step.) Mix well, then layer in the prepared foil-lined bottom pan.
  13. Place the top of the broiler pan with the chicken on it over the bottom pan of potatoes.
  14. Roast in the oven for 40 minutes. Cut into a thigh and if the juices run clear it’s done. If the juices run pink, keep it in the oven for another 10 minutes or until juices run clear.
  15. Remove the chicken from the oven and let it sit while you prepare the potatoes. Dab grease from the top of them using a paper towel. Place a cutting board over the potatoes, then flip the whole thing over. Carefully remove the foil – it’s likely that even with the nonstick spray some of them will stick to the foil. Again dab them with a paper towel to remove as much grease as possible.
  16. Cut the chicken into fourths (or however many pieces you desire) and serve with potatoes.

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