I’ve been thinking about roast chicken.
In , we responded to a reader who asked, in short, how do I get really good at cooking? One of the things I wrote is that “cooks who grow and mature seek other ways to cook dishes they already know.” They’re critical, they think about what they can improve the next time, and then they give it a shot.
Roast chicken was one of those dishes for me. It’s one of the most basic things that home cooks make, but most of us still run into problems with it. Among the challenges: You need to brown the skin really well without torching it. You need to cook the thighs and legs all the way through without drying out the breast. And, if you’re like me, you need to achieve all of this without a lot of fuss. I tried countless chicken-roasting techniques before finally discovering the one that makes me the happiest (because it’s easy and it works).
The key is giving the slower-cooking legs a jumpstart, so they’re done at the same time as the quicker-cooking breasts. Slide a heavy skillet (cast-iron is best) into the oven when you start heating it. By the time the oven is up to temperature (450 degrees), the skillet will be nice and hot. When you add the chicken (breast-side up), the legs will get a head start when they come into contact with the hot pan. That’s all it takes. The legs cook faster, the breasts stay juicy, and the high temp crisps the skin.
When you cook it like this (fairly quickly, and without lots of turning, flipping, checking, poking and prodding along the way), roast chicken becomes very doable as a weeknight dinner. Sure, it takes an hour, but that time is almost entirely your own. Get home from work, turn the oven on and put a pan in it; 15 minutes later, season a chicken and put it in the pan; 45 minutes later, take it out. Rest, carve, eat. Honestly, a really leisurely hour of cooking is often better on a weeknight than a frantic 30 minutes.
And if you want seasonings more exciting than salt and pepper (though, with a good chicken, that’s really all you need), the recipe below has seven great and dead simple variations: 1) Herb-Roasted. 2) Lemon-Roasted. 3) Paprika. 4) Honey Mustard. 5) Curry-Coconut. 6). Soy-Honey-Garlic. 7) Orange-Cumin-Honey.
The best part? Depending on how many people you’re cooking for and how big your chicken is, leftovers are a distinct possibility, which means the next night’s dinner is already well underway.
We justifiably associate roast chicken with elegance, but it can also be super weeknight food, cooked in just about an hour. This method works because the high heat provided by the heated skillet cooks the thighs faster than the breasts, which are exposed only to the heat of the oven. It gives you nice browning without drying out the breast meat, and it’s easily varied.
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Questions, comments, brilliant suggestions? Just want to share the recipe for your grandma's potato salad, or your mom's meatloaf, or your uncle Drew's three-day 100-percent rye loaf (yes, please)? Don't hesitate to reach out anytime.