Saturday, October 29, 2011

Roasted Chicken

With my method of roasting a chicken I want one thing. Simplicity. When coming up with my method I had one main constraint being that I could only use one "flavor boosting effect." So I
could choose to season, brine, stuff, or marinate but in no combination of either method. After I tried every way separately I decided that brining was the best. Seasoning and marinating require money because of spices and such, whereas brining only uses salt water and sugar. (This makes it more accessible too, becasue everyone has those three ingredients in their kitchen.) Stuffing is also a money factor but I think its greatest downfall was the time factor, it just really isn't that simple to make time wise. I have to say though, everyone has their own way to do this, each with their benefits and trade offs and no way to do it is wrong if you yourself like the end product. This is what I have settled on for mine.

Roasted Chicken:
Prep time: 2 to 10 hours (depending on brining time)
Cooking time: 45 to 75 minutes

Clean the chicken:
Get a 4 to 5 pound chicken from the store. Remove the bag inside the cavity and any excess fat around the cavity. Rinse the chicken and leave in the sink while you make the brine.

Brine the chicken:
Brining is one of those things that you will try once and then do forever. It is the simplest, most effective and cheapest way to increase the overall outcome of your bird. For those of you who have never brined before here is a excellent explanation of how it works:

How Brining works

So the basic brine goes like this:
1/2 gallon hot water
1/2 gallon cold water
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup white sugar

1. Add salt and sugar to hot water and stir vigorously.
2. Add the cold water and stir vigorously.
3. Let the water come to room temperature, or chill it to room temperature before adding chicken.

Put the chicken in a nonreactive container or brining bag and pour brine in. Make sure the chicken is completely covered in the brine. (Weigh it down by putting a plate on top.)

As for brining time, a chicken can benefit anywhere from an hour to ten hours and sometimes twelve if the bird is big enough (5 lbs or larger).

Typically what I aim to do is brine the bird by 3-4pm, take it out at midnight or so, then let it dry in the fridge until I roast it. Another good schedule is brining in the morning and then just taking the chicken out when you're ready to roast. This way only loses a litlle crispyness from the skin. Drying the chicken takes no real effort except for some forethought and it dramatically increases the quality of the chicken skin.

Once the chicken is out of the brine, whether or not you intend to dry the skin overnight or not, pat it down with paper towels all over; being sure to get in between all joints and undersides. Give it a good shot of evenly distributed salt and pepper and either put it in the fridge for drying or head to the next step.

After drying the bird we will truss the chicken while the oven preheats.

Temperature Note:
The oven temperature I use is 400F. We are roasting here, not baking. Baked chicken is made in a 350F oven. We don't want baked chicken and that 50 degree difference will have a drastic effect on the end product.

Trussing is again, one of these simple things that cost no money and are very effective at producing good results. Trussing's main goal is to contour the chicken into a shape that maximizes the evenness of the cooking temperature. There are actually a lot of ways to do it, so the important thing to do is find a way that you like, then memorize it. (I can't tell you how many times I've had to stop everything just to look up a video of trussing on youtube. Just memorize it!) My favorite demo on trussing is by Brian Polcyn, co-writer of the best cookbook I've ever owned, Charcuterie. Here it is:

Once that is done and the oven is fully preheated (can't stress that enough) we are ready to roast this bird into poultry perfection.

Wait! Deny the temptation to throw it in without just a little thought and care. Do two last things before you pop her in there:

1) Check your salt and pepper and adjust accordingly. If you ever add too much, I found a good way to remove excess salt and pepper is a paper towel brushed over it like a paintbrush. This way we wont get the skin wet by rinsing it off. We would hate to do that.

2) Put your chicken in a roasting pan. And let me be clear here, a roasting pan has two parts, the pan itself and a rack. The rack holds the meat off the bottom off the pan. We want to do this, why? To use pure convection to heat the bird. When the chicken touches the metal pan it will be heated by conduction, resulting in an unevenly cooked product. (Meaning the bottom cooks faster than the top.) If you don't have a roasting pan you can still achieve this same effect by putting the chicken on a cooling rack and the cooling rack in the pan, or just by jerryrigging your own contraption.

Once you have done these two steps put the bird in and set the timer for 40 minutes. Do not open the oven for the next 40 minutes. It will not over cook in this time, I promise you. Opening and closing the oven will result in a non-constant cooking temperature which increases the effects of evaporation and elongates true cooking time.

At 40 minutes take the bird out and temp it. Using a little intuition, and the knowledge of the current temperature, come up with a reasonable amount of time until you check it again. Remember, a chicken must hit 165F in the thickest part of the thigh to be done.

Put the chicken back in and roast until its done, checking the temperature appropriately.

 Let it rest:
Once we have got the chicken to 165F, we let it rest for 15 to 30 minutes. DO NOT CUT INTO IT. Let it rest. Get everything else ready and let it rest. Please, let it rest. Juices redistribute throughout the meat while it cools down, making for a more succulent product.

Lastly we carve the chicken correctly. Here is how to do it:

After that it is done and its time to eat!

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