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Roast Chicken, Perfected

The search is over. Geoffrey Zakarian shares three ways to cook the best roast chicken you’ve ever tasted. The difference is in the details.

April/May 2019 Issue
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Want to impress that special someone? Craving a little comfort? Need a tasty Sunday-night dinner that’ll delight the whole family? There’s one perfect answer: Roast a chicken. It doesn’t get simpler—or better—than that.

When it comes to roast chicken, it’s the details that separate the great from the ordinary. Heed these four simple pieces of advice for the best roast chicken you’ll ever make.

Always start with the best possible bird

You can’t go wrong with 3- to 3-1/2-lb. kosher air-chilled chicken. They’re terrific and easy to find almost everywhere these days. Air-chilling yields extremely tender meat with concentrated chicken flavor.

Even though it’s a bit harder to find, the blue-footed chicken, or poulet bleu, is one of my favorite roasting birds. The meat is extremely tender and has big flavor. Originally from Canada, poulet bleu were virtually impossible to find in the United States until recently. Lucky for us, flocks of blue-footed chickens are now being raised in California.

Another roaster I love is Jidori chicken, a domestic mixed breed that’s sustainably raised and prized for its robust flavor. These hormone- and antibiotic-free birds are fed an all-grain diet and are never frozen.

Although they can be a bit pricey, these specialty chicken breeds offer clear differences in flavor, and I urge you to seek them out to find the one you prefer, even if you decide to save it for a special occasion.

Layer on honest, craveable seasonings

Each of the recipes here touches on my favorite spice-herb-veggie combinations. They boast just the right balance of sweet, savory, and herbal flavors to complement tender, juicy roast chicken. Each recipe also provides all the details you need to roast a juicy, tender chicken. After all, what good is great flavor without properly cooked meat?

Let the bird rest twice

Allowing the chicken to sit, salted or in a spice rub that includes salt, for at least 20 minutes before cooking is an important step on the path to perfect roasting. This first rest gives the salt time to absorb into the chicken, tenderizing the meat while drying out the skin so that it can crisp delightfully in the oven.

The second rest happens after you remove it from the oven and should also last for at least 20 minutes. During this time, the juices redistribute throughout the meat instead of ending up on your carving board.

Tent with foil

Last, but certainly not least, always remember to tent the chicken with foil if it’s browning too quickly in the oven. Burning the skin will ruin both the aesthetic and the flavor of the finished bird. For me, roasting a chicken is a culinary rite of passage. Every cook should know how to do it—and do it well.


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  • User avater
    WesleyParks | 09/26/2019

    Yummy yummy!

  • user-530278 | 03/30/2019

    To those who can't find chickens weighing less than 4 pounds, move to Maine or Massachusetts (I can't answer for NH, VT, CT, RI)! We have LOADS of them in the supermarkets and butcher shops, most with some or all of their giblets nicely wrapped inside.

  • user-6951515 | 03/14/2019

    Whatever happened to those 3 lb. birds? That's what I grew up on, but haven't seen one in YEARS! I guess now they feed these poor, abused creatures all kinds of laboratory-manufactured feed to get their weight up so they can sell them for more per pound. Surely, they cannot even stand up, let alone peck in the dirt or run around, under all that super-imposed weight. I can remember when plucked chickens used to be yellow, but now they are a sad, anemic white. I'm no PETA person, but I shudder to think of the miserable lives these chickens must live in order to provide food for us. And you know what? It doesn't have to be that way! Animals that give their lives to feed us should only know ONE BAD DAY. Please check out Change.org and lend your support to organizations demanding the humane treatment of the animals that feed us. BTW, we can learn a LOT from the original possessors of this land, the Native Americans, who said a prayer of "thanks" over every animal that gave its life so that we might eat and live. Back to the land, people.

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