I love everything about roasting chickens. I love the way it makes your kitchen smell. I love the way the skin gets all crispy. I love the way the meat pulls away from the chicken’s ankle when it’s done. I love the oyster. I fricken’ love the oyster. I love how you can eat it for days, in as many ways – salads, sandwiches, soups. I love sneaking a bit of salty skin from the cooked bird, obviously from around the neck so no one will know about your sticky fingers. I love how no matter what recipe you use to roast a bird, IT WILL ALWAYS BE FANTASTIC.
This last point is pretty true. There are only a few ways you can screw up a roast chicken, the top two being underdone and overdone. Even if you forget to add salt (which is a baby move), you can correct that after the bird is cooked. I have roasted a ton of chickens in my kitchen, and I’ve employed different techniques. Brining is great – it guarantees a moist bird, as long as the ratio of salt to water is correct and the bird isn’t submerged for too long. Garlic, fresh herbs and lemon in the bird’s cavity will definitely give the chicken a savory flavour from within. This past weekend, though, I think I came up with a move that’s a bit of a game changer for me. Compound butter. I will never roast a chicken again without using this technique. And I implore you to try it out. You will end up with such a tasty bird.
Compound butter is nothing new in the general scheme of chicken roasting. I used to use a truffled compound butter under the skin of chickens at Mistura – that was a tasty dish, but looking back I wish I used more butter. Also, by using a ton (the scientifically correct amount) of butter, you get all this tasty roasting fat at the bottom of your pan that makes a killer gravy with just some flour, chicken stock, bay leaves and a splash of brandy.
Buttered Roast Chicken
- 1 chicken, about 3.5-4 lbs, clean and dry
- ½ lb unsalted butter, cut up and left at room temperature
- 4 large shallots, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
- ½ bunch thyme, leaves picked and finely chopped
- ½ bunch sage, leaves picked and finely chopped
- ½ bunch rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 450°F.
Using a wooden spoon, mash all of the ingredients (except the chicken, duh) together. The butter must be at room temperature for this. You will be left with a solid mixed up compound butter that is quite malleable.
Now, take your fingers and separate the skin from the breast meat of the chicken. Don’t be too forceful – you don’t want the skin to break – but you must separate as much of the skin that you can – you want to create a “pocket” where the butter can spread. Take your compound butter one tablespoon at a time and massage it through the pocket until the entire bird has butter under its skin. Check my photo to see what it should look like. Then you have to truss the bird to ensure even cooking. If you don’t know how to do this, the easiest way is to “squish” the legs into the breast, make the chicken look like a rugby ball (a football is too elongated), and tie a loop around the whole bird. Ideally you would loop the twine around the ankles of the bird for uniformity, but don’t fret if you can’t do it. Eventually I’ll upload a video of me doing it so you know what to do.
Now rub olive oil all over the chicken, and season liberally with kosher salt and cracked black pepper. Don’t worry, you do need all that fat and salt in your mouth.
Place the bird on a roasting rack on a pan and cook it in the oven for half an hour, then turn the oven down to 350°F and continue roasting for another hour or so, until an internal thermometer stuck in the meatiest part of the bird (the thigh) reads 180°F. Remove the chicken from the oven and tent foil on top of it. Let it rest about 30 minutes (in the meantime make your gravy), before carving and serving.
If this isn’t the greatest thing you do this weekend, it better be because you roasted the chicken right after having Bruce Springsteen serenade you while you get a foot massage from John Travolta. For reals.