"Good roast chicken will never let you down," says my grandmother, and Lucia and I definitely agree with her. With its crisp, salty skin, moist breast meat, and dense, meaty dark meat, a whole roast chicken appeals to everyone from a sophisticated diner to a finicky kid. Which is why it makes the perfect Sunday dinner.
Getting any two good cooks to agree on how to actually roast the chicken is another story, however. Do you use high-temperature, fast roasting? Or should you take it low and slow? Truss it tight or leave it loose? Baste? Yes? No?
We tried several methods to really explore what worked best, and while we acknowledge that there are indeed many ways to make good roast chicken (click the link for dozens of Roasted Chicken recipes), we've developed a method that we think is simple, yet which gives us delicious results.
We start with an initial blast of heat, followed by roasting at a moderate temperature; we don't truss, and we don't baste (except for small birds). We do pay careful attention to the first and last steps of the process—we season the bird to make it even more flavorful, and we always like to go one step further than just plain roast chicken by transforming the flavorful pan juices into a simple but delicious sauce.
Web extra: Get our five quick tips for perfect roast chicken.
Use butter for browning, seasonings for a flavor boost
The simplicity of roast chicken is part of its appeal, so we don't like to clutter it up with lots of ingredients and fussy steps, but we do like to give the bird a nice flavor boost before roasting. Usually we'll just use butter and seasonings, but for a change we might marinate the whole bird.
For a basic approach, we rub the outside of the bird with softened unsalted butter, which encourages browning, and we work some butter and other seasonings under the skin of the breast to help keep it moist and to add some flavor notes to the mild meat. A generous dose of salt and pepper both outside and inside the bird's cavity is important so that the seasonings can be absorbed into the meat during roasting—more effective than trying to season the surface later.
We also usually put other flavor additions into the cavity—herbs, lemons, cloves of garlic—which help flavor the meat and especially the pan juices as they flow from the bird into the roasting pan.
Slip your seasonings under the skin for full flavor and moist meat. Rub the chicken all over with softened butter, gently pushing the butter and other seasonings under the skin without tearing it.
Fill the cavity with flavorful ingredients, and season well with salt and pepper inside and out.