Julia Child once said, “You can always judge the quality of a cook or a restaurant by roast chicken.” Why? Because roasting a chicken requires something akin to sleight-of-hand: it’s almost impossible to get the white meat and the dark meat properly cooked at the same time. Most home cooks end up with either dry, overcooked breast meat or underdone thighs.
That’s why many of us resort to supermarket rotisserie chickens. Although they are hugely popular, typical rotisserie chickens are sufficiently overcooked to avoid litigation (the chicken equivalent of a McDonalds coffee cup that says, “Caution! Ingredients very hot”).
Enter Mark Bittman, eminent cookbook author and New York Times food writer. Mark likes to streamline recipes to their bare bones, hence the name of his NYT blog, The Minimalist. This recipe (click on the link to watch a video of Mark roasting his chicken) is about as minimal as you can get. One chicken, olive oil, salt, pepper and a cast iron skillet. That’s it.
There are countless, more involved recipes for roast chicken, several of them here on hungry poodle. But I have become a fan of Mark’s aptly named “simplest” technique. Here’s the idea: by heating the cast iron skillet in a very hot oven, you create a way for the dark meat, which hits the pan first, to begin cooking immediately. This head start for the dark meat means the bird needs less overall time in the oven and saves the delicate breast meat from becoming overcooked and dry.
It’s a no-brainer way to accomplish a fairly challenging task — breast meat that is moist and juicy, thigh meat that isn’t still raw at the bone. My chicken was done in about 45 minutes total and it came out exactly as advertised. Delicious and, trust me, eminently better than a rotisserie bird.
Cautionary note: a 500 degree oven is, well, very hot. Be careful when placing the chicken into the hot skillet. And be sure to generously salt both the inside and outside of the chicken before roasting.
One more thing: Julia Child would urge you to buy the best-quality chicken you can afford. I buy all-natural, free range Campo Lindo chickens, raised on a family farm located about 35 miles north of Kansas City. Their chickens and eggs are available at supermarkets such as Hy-Vee, Price Chopper and Whole Foods.
Wherever you live, search out locally grown, free-range chickens. Julia would have been a regular Campo Lindo customer because, in her own words: “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces. Just good food from fresh ingredients.”
1 whole chicken, 3 to 4 pounds
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper
Put an oven-proof skillet (preferably a cast iron skillet) into the oven on the lower rack and heat oven to 500 degrees F. Rub the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle it generously inside and out with salt and pepper.
When the oven and skillet are hot, carefully put the chicken into the skillet, breast side up. Roast for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees F.
Continue to roast about 30 more minutes (45 minutes altogether) or until the chicken is golden brown and registers between 155 to 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer inserted into the meaty part of the thigh.
Transfer the chicken to a platter and allow it to rest for at least 5 minutes. Carve and serve.