From proper seasoning and cooking temp to aromatics and flavored butters, make your chicken dinner a winner with our pro tips.
Is there anything better than a juicy roast chicken with golden-brown, crackly skin? We think not. But that doesn’t mean the almighty roast chicken can’t stand a bit of improvement. One or more of these tweaks will make the King of All Dinner Recipes even more irresistible.Buy a Nice Bird
Those enormous roasters at the grocery store might pack more pounds, but they’re probably weak in the flavor department. It’s worth paying a little more for an organic chicken because it will (surprise!) taste more like chicken. If you have a trusty poultry vendor at your local farmers’ market, try a pasture-raised chicken that grew up in fresh air eating a varied diet. You’ll taste a huge difference over a conventionally raised bird. We like small chickens (2 1/2–3 1/2 pounds) because they cook quickly and evenly without drying out—and have a high ratio of skin to meat.Salt It Early
As we learned from Judy Rodgers, acclaimed chef and author of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, salt is your chicken’s best friend. To ensure juicy, well-seasoned meat and the crispiest skin, do what Rodgers does in her in her famous recipe for Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad: Pat your chicken with paper towels until it is very dry and salt your bird generously, inside and out. Then let it sit, loosely covered, on a plate (or even better, a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet) in the fridge for up to 2 days. That way any excess moisture can drain off, which will ensure a nice, crispy skin.
Roast at a High Heat
The most popular recipe of all time on our site is Thomas Keller’s My Favorite Simple Roast Chicken. Once you’ve tasted a chicken cooked using his method, it’s easy to see why. Keller calls for a small bird and roasts it at 450°F for 50–60 minutes. The hot heat blasts the skin to a deep burnished brown, while the quick cook time helps to guarantee a moist, succulent bird. For even cooking, let your chicken sit a room temperature for at least half an hour before putting it in the oven.
Add Lots of Garlic
Make that 40 cloves of garlic, to be exact. There are countless versions of Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic, a classic Provençal dish that was popularized in the U.S. by James Beard and Julia Child. The high clove count might seem excessive, but the garlic gets basted with the chicken juices as it cooks and the pungent flavors become sweet and buttery. You can either cook it covered (as written), which will yield a saucier result, or dot the garlic cloves with butter and try cooking the dish uncovered in a skillet at a higher temperature, like 450°F, if you prefer crispy skin.
Don’t forget to serve the bird with toasts to spread with the creamy roasted garlic; you’ll never want to slather them with butter again. Pro tip: save yourself some prep time and buy a container of peeled garlic cloves from your grocery store’s produce section.
Make a Flavored Butter
A great way to infuse your bird with flavor is to rub an herbed or spiced butter under the skin, and then brush even more flavored butter onto the skin before roasting. Keep it simple with finely chopped garlic or paprika, or go wild with ingredients like chopped olives and preserved lemon, grated orange zest and hot chiles, or tons of herbs and crushed fennel seeds, like in this Roast Chicken with Herb Butter, Onions, and Garlic.
Stuff the Cavity
You can also boost your bird by stuffing the cavity with what ever aromatic ingredients you have on hand, like halved fresh or preserved citrus, bunches of herbs, quartered onions, or a split head of garlic. This Roast Chicken with Rosemary, Lemon, and Honey is stuffed with shallot, lemon, and rosemary. It’s also roasted on a bed of rosemary branches (another great technique!) The flavor permeates the chicken (and makes your kitchen smell amazing).
Roast Over Vegetables
For the easiest one-pan dinner ever, roast your chicken on a bed of sturdy root vegetables. You get a built-in side dish, and the rich juices from the chicken make the vegetables taste amazing. This Special Sunday Roast Chicken includes regular and sweet potatoes, carrots, and parsnips. We also like celery root, beets, fennel, shallots, onions, and anything else that can roast at high heat for about an hour. Just peel and cut the vegetables into 1 1/2-inch cubes, toss with oil, salt, and pepper, then place them in your skillet or roasting pan before adding the chicken. Stir occasionally while roasting to baste those vegetables with the chicken fat and juices.
Originally published in epicurious.com