The One Trick You’re Not Doing to Make Knockout Roast Chicken
It doesn’t happen every day, but sometimes you follow a recipe and it totally rocks your world.
Diana Kennedy’s carnitas, which involve little more than simmering pieces of pork shoulder in salted water, define the category for me. The technique is so simple, and the result is so much better than complex recipes I’ve tried, that I was an immediate convert, compelled to talk about it with the enthusiasm of the newly converted. With the exception of Cosme’s fine duck carnitas—cooked for hours in evaporated milk and duck fat—I’ll never make carnitas any other way. Such is the effect of a “genius recipe.”
Kristen Miglore’s fantastic new cookbook is full of these kinds of game changers. The book is based on Miglore’s Genius Recipes column, which she has written for Food52 since the summer of 2011, celebrating and fine-tuning some of the neatest techniques in the cooking world.
I was already familiar with a couple of gems here—like Kennedy's carnitas, and Marcella Hazan’s truly essential tomato sauce, made only with tomatoes, butter, and onion—so I decided to try out a few of the other 98 recipes this week.
For lunch on Tuesday, I had a bowl of spicy tomato soup, with a spoonful of crème fraîche, and a grilled cheese slathered on the outside with mayonnaise instead of butter. (Please, please, try this.) Later, I roasted a chicken for dinner and ate it with broccoli cooked for-freaking-ever with garlic, anchovies, and olive oil, until the vegetable transformed into something tender, sweet, and luxurious. (Not what I was expecting!) Each recipe provided a one-on-one, completely un-preachy cooking lesson with Miglore.
The author taught me something about white chocolate, which I've always considered the least exciting of chocolates. When I worked in pastry kitchens, I never heated white chocolate past its melting point, unless I was accidentally making some kind of horrible, expensive mistake bound for the garbage.
But do you know what happens when you slowly heat white chocolate way past melting point? Go on, guess! It’s actually very exciting: It turns golden as the sugars caramelize, and it starts to taste complicated and almost a bit smoky, like a weird lump of toffee. The texture changes too, from fudgy and grainy to smooth and shiny, then back to fudge again.
Miglore, who picked up the technique of roasting white chocolate in the oven from French chocolate company Valrhona, suggests thinning the final, caramel-colored result with coconut oil to make a sauce for ice cream. Do this, and the sauce freezes soft-solid, just like Magic Shell. I haven’t been so delighted by a recipe in ages, or been so rewarded for trusting an author.
But the roast chicken recipe, which the author adapted from Barbara Kafka’s 1995 cookbook, Roasting: A Simple Art, is the one that will change my life at the Kennedy Carnitas Level. I may never brine, truss, or spatchock another chicken. I will certainly never massage its pale, stretchy skin with olive oil or bother capping the breast meat with butter. The secret: a very hot oven. Salt, pepper, and dang, that’s all a chicken really needs to roast beautifully.
Admiring my chicken’s crisp, golden skin, I was starting to feel pretty good about myself. But if there’s some genius at work here, it’s Miglore, who has developed, discovered, and streamlined such a wonderful collection of recipes. Below, the unfussy chicken technique that made my week.
Simplest Roast Chicken
From Barbara Kafka; Genius Recipes by Kristen Miglore
Serves 2 to 4
One 5 to 6 pound chicken, wing tips removed, brought to room temperature
1 lemon, halved (optional)
4 cloves garlic (optional)
¼ cup unsalted butter (optional)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chicken stock, water, fruit juice, or wine for deglazing (optional)
1. Preheat a regular oven to 500 degrees F, or a convection oven to 450 degrees F. Place an oven rack on the second level from the bottom of the oven.
2. Remove the fat from the tail and crop the ends of the chicken. Freeze the neck and giblets for stock. Reserve the liver for another use. Stuff the cavity of the chicken with the lemon, garlic, and butter, if using. Season the cavity and skin with salt and pepper.
3. Place the chicken in a 12 by 8 by 1½-inch roasting pan, breast side up. Put into the oven lefts first, and roast for 50 to 60 minutes, or until juices run clear. After the first 10 minutes, move the chicken with a wooden spoon to keep it from sticking.
4. Remove the chicken to a platter by placing a large wooden spoon into the tail end and balancing the chicken with a kitchen spoon pressed against the crop end. As you lift the chicken, carefully tilt it over the roast pan so that all of the juices run out and into the pan.
5. To make a sauce from the pan juices, if one is desired, pour off or spoon out excess fat from the roasting pan and put the roasting pan on top of the stove. Add the stock or other liquid, and bring the contents of the pan to a boil while scraping the bottom vigorously with a wooden spoon. Let reduce by half. Serve the sauce over the chicken or, for crisp skin, in a sauceboat.