A beautiful, plump roasted chicken on a bed of fragrant herbed vegetables is one of the ultimate comfort foods and a wonderful choice for cool autumn nights.
I used to serve a different variation of roasted chicken every other Sunday until I stumbled upon Thomas Keller’s recipe for simple roasted chicken in his “Ad Hoc at Home” cookbook and realized that the most deliciously tender chicken is also the simplest. The trick to this juicy bird is to thoroughly dry the chicken and add as little moisture as possible. Resist the temptation to add oil, butter or vegetables with high water content. When you place the chicken in the hot oven, you can hear the dry skin crackle and imagine it sealing in all the delicious juices. The result is one of my family’s favorite, most requested meals.
Incredible tastiness aside, this dish is also very forgiving and a great choice for chefs of all skill levels. I love that I can get a complete, nourishing, low-cost dinner with only one pan to wash. The leftovers are wonderful, and you also can make this without the vegetables to replace rotisserie chicken in any recipe.
This meal is under $2 a serving if you’re lucky enough to have access to an herb garden. If not and you don’t want to buy multiple herbs, just pick up a packet of thyme. The fragrant leaves are a perfect complement to the chicken and will add all the flavor you need.
While this dish does require some time and planning, the active time is only about 15 minutes, making it a good choice for busy afternoons at home. As the nights get cooler, put this into the dinner rotation and expect a new family favorite.
- 1 whole chicken, about 4 to 4 1/2 pounds
- Coarse kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 to 3 pounds root vegetables (any combination of potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, onions, shallots)
- 1 head garlic
- 1 handful fresh herbs (I like thyme, rosemary, sage and tarragon)
- Large, oven-safe pan. I’ve used a giant skillet, a 9-by-9-inch dark baking dish, and cast iron braiser (pictured) – all work well.
- Paper towels
- Trussing string*
*Tip: The markup on trussing string at grocery and specialty stores is enormous. Instead, buy string at a hardware store for a fraction of the cost.
- Oven mitts
- Meat thermometer
- Aluminum foil
- Wine, optional
Step by step directions:
1. Dry the chicken. I do this the day before if I can remember. Rinse your chicken and, using paper towels, dry it off as much as possible inside and out. I stuff paper towels inside the cavity, wrap it in more paper towels, and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. Except when I forget. Then I hastily dry it immediately before starting on the rest of these steps and it’s still awesome.
2. Temper the chicken. Let the chicken sit at room temperature for as long as you can, up to 3 hours before you cook it. Again, this is a step I forget as often as not but I notice the difference. If you have time, do it. The goal is to get the chicken to room temperature before cooking so that it cooks evenly.
3. Preheat the oven. Oh my gosh! We’re so close to cooking this thing! Preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure it’s up to temperature before putting it in the bird.
4. Prep the vegetables. While your chicken is coming to room temperature, prepare your vegetables. Leave the skin on potatoes but peel any other vegetables.
Using 1-inch-cube dice is good although you’ll see I prefer more of a rectangular prism, myself. No need to get fancy. Pile the veggies in your pan.
5. Peel the garlic. Mix whole, peeled cloves of garlic in with the vegetables. After roasting with the chicken, the cloves lose their pungency and become creamy and sweet. They’re one of my favorite parts so unless you’re allergic, don’t have any on hand, or really desperately hate garlic, don’t skip them.
A super quick way to remove garlic skins is to cut the root off the head and then gently crack each clove with the flat of a chef’s knife (make sure you don’t catch yourself on the blade). The skin will fall away so you can easily pluck out the clove and discard the papery skin. It may take some practice to master the exact amount of force but there’s no harm in a few crushed cloves.
7. Season and truss the chicken. Like all of the above, this step is optional but, again like all of the above, it makes for more a more delicious bird. Rub the inside of the cavity with about a teaspoon each of salt and freshly ground pepper – an amount about the size of a quarter. Stuff any leftover herb stems into the cavity and prepare to truss.
Trussing is much easier than it sounds. It’s just a matter of tying the chicken into a tight little package so that its parts don’t flop around and dry out in the oven. Cut about an arm’s length of string and place the center under the chicken butt. Wrap the string around the drumsticks as in the image below.
8. Now the important part: Rain about a tablespoonful of coarse salt over the bird. I’ll even press some into the sides so that it’s completely coated with a speckling of salt. Don’t let concerns about sodium stop you – if you’re watching out for your health you really shouldn’t be eating the skin, anyway. I don’t. The salty crust helps crisp the skin and hold in the juices that make the chicken tender.
Finally, set the chicken on top of the vegetables and sprinkle the bird with the remaining fresh herbs.
9. Put it in the oven. Place the pan in the oven centered on the top rack.
Set a timer for 1 hour and arrange some kind of reminder that the pan will be hot when you take it out. I stuff my oven mitts in the handle of the oven so I can’t open it without being reminded to put them on. It seems obvious, but when things are getting hot and heavy — timers are going off, tables are being set, wine is being drunk — sometimes a reminder can be helpful. Don’t assume I’m speaking from experience or anything, but second-degree burns on your palm suck.
10. Drink some wine, if using, and enjoy the heavenly smell coming from the kitchen.
11. Check the temperature. After the timer goes off, remember that the pan is hot! I admit it — I’m speaking from experience. Using oven mitts, remove the chicken and insert a meat thermometer into a fleshy part, avoiding the bone, which can throw off the reading. The chicken should be at least 165 degrees F. I like to take measurements from two parts.
If the chicken isn’t yet fully cooked, put it back in the oven for another 10 minutes and repeat.
12. Rest the chicken. Once your chicken is cooked through, it’s important to let it rest at least 10 to 15 minutes so that the juices distribute throughout the meat and don’t run out as soon as you start carving. Tent it with a sheet of aluminum foil and drink some more wine — I’m not judging — but leave your oven mitts out. The pan will still be hot and the emotional scars from the embarrassment of burning yourself now will take longer to heal than the physical scars.
13. Enjoy! Finally time to eat. Transfer the chicken to a carving board, remove the trussing string, and give the vegetables a stir to mix the drippings evenly.
This is great served with Dijon mustard on the side. I usually make a quick mustard-butter-white wine sauce, but the chicken is really so juicy it needs no accompaniment.
14. Epilogue. Save the bones. Wasn’t that amazing? We’re not done yet. Store the bones in a gallon plastic bag in the freezer. Soon, I’ll share a post on turning the remains of this incredible simple roasted chicken into an incredible simple homemade chicken stock.
Quick Reference Recipe:
Active time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 1/2 hours
Servings: 4 to 6 depending on the size of the chicken and appetites
- 1 whole chicken, about 4 to 4 1/2 pounds
- Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 to 3 pounds root vegetables (any combination of potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, onions, shallots), 1-inch dice
- 1 head garlic, cloves peeled
- 1/2 cup fresh herbs, finely chopped
- Rinse and thoroughly dry the chicken with paper towels and let sit until room temperature, about 1 to 2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 450 F.
- Combine diced vegetables, garlic cloves, and 1/2 the chopped herbs in a large pan or braiser.
- Season the inside of the chicken cavity with salt and pepper. Truss the chicken and sprinkle with about 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Place chicken on top of vegetables and sprinkle with remaining herbs.
- Cook, undisturbed, until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 F, about 1 hour.
- Tent with foil and let rest 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
Photo credit: Maggie Jones