The best roast chickens I’ve ever eaten have a couple of things in common.
a). The chicken was first brined in a salt solution, resulting in a juicy, flavorful bird, and
b.) The chicken was roasted at a high temperature, producing a very crispy skin
A basic salt brine consists of salt (1 cup) and water (1 gallon). From there, you can add whatever flavorings you fancy. I add a little sugar (I like to think it helps brown the skin) and other herbs and spices depending upon what else I’m serving with the chicken.
My favorite chicken brine is a citrus brine:
1 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
10 cilantro stems (with leaves), roughly chopped
half a head of garlic cloves, unpeeled and smashed
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, crushed
1 gallon of water
Zest the citrus and place the zest in a stockpot. Cut the citrus in half and squeeze the juice into the pot. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Bring just to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature and then chill the brine in the refrigerator. Do this a day or two ahead of when you plan to roast the chicken.
The technique for this recipe is built upon Thomas Keller’s roast chicken recipe in his cookbook Bouchon. He goes into elaborate detail (no surprise there) about the brining, trussing and eventual roasting of the chicken.
I’ve simplified the steps here, and having eaten the chicken at Bouchon in Las Vegas, I can say that this home cooked bird stacks up very well against the restaurant’s version.
The biggest difference? You will have to do your own dishes.
Citrus Brined Roasted Chicken
Serves 4 to 6
1 (3 to 3-1/2 pounds) whole chicken
1 citrus brine recipe (above)
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon canola oil
2 tablespoons thyme leaves
Rinse the chicken under cold water and pat dry. Place the chicken in the chilled citrus brine, cover and place in the refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours.
Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse under cold water and pat dry. Tuck the wings underneath the bird (don’t worry too much if they don’t stay tucked – you tried). Tie the front legs loosely together with kitchen string. Lightly salt and heavily pepper the outside of the bird.
Heat the oven to 475º F., while the bird is shaking off the chill from the fridge. When the oven is really hot, about 20 minutes later, add the oil to a skillet large enough to fit the bird with room to spare, and place over high heat. Swirl around to distribute the oil while the skillet gets really hot, about 3 minutes.
Place the trussed bird, breast-side up, in the skillet (a hot skillet prevents the chicken from sticking to the pan) and place in the preheated oven. Roast for 40-45 minutes (the bird will get very brown, so tent loosely with a piece of foil if you think it’s getting too brown).
Remove from the oven and check the the temperature with a meat thermometer stuck in the thickest part of the thigh, making sure it doesn’t touch a bone. The temperature should be 155º – 160º F. when it is finished in the oven, so if it is below that, return the chicken to the oven. Check the temperature every 5 minutes. When the bird is 155º – 160º F., remove it from the oven. As it rests, it will continue to cook.
Add the thyme to the pan drippings and then with a spoon, baste the bird with the thyme-infused drippings for a minute. Remove the bird to a cutting board to rest for 15 minutes before carving.