The mark of a good chef or restaurant is how well either can roast a chicken. A moist and tender chicken is the quintessential comfort food, but an overcooked, dry bird will make you wish you’d ordered steak.
When roasting chicken at home, there’s an easy way to get a juicy roasted bird every time: cook the bird upside down.
I stumbled upon this technique when trying to multitask making dinner, checking e-mails, talking to my mother on the phone, and doing laundry. Since I wasn’t concentrating on the chicken, I absentmindedly placed my bird upside down on the rack, breast-side down. When it was ready, it was a beautiful brown color, so pretty I took a photo and showed my husband. He promptly pointed out that the breast was on the bottom, then laughed loudly at my mistake.
Nevertheless, the chicken was moist and flavorful. And very little was leftover after dinner.
I felt redemption a few weeks ago, when I took a class with chef Anita Jacobson, a 30-year veteran at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. In Jacobson’s Fine Cooking I class, each group had its own 3-pound baby roast chicken to cook with a medley of vegetables and a brown butter sauce. Before we got cooking, Jacobson went over the recipe and told us to start cooking the bird breast-side down. (”Toldya!” I texted my husband from class.)
The birds turned out perfectly golden and juicy.
Jacobson explained why she browns her birds breast down. “Most of the fat on the bird is always in the back, and when you roast it breast-side down, instead of the fat dripping to the roasting pan, it drips into the bird and not into the pan,” she said. “I find they came out juicier and crisper when they’re cooked breast-side down.”
She recommends roasting the bird for 25 minutes per pound, starting the cooking time with the bird breast-side down, but turning it right side up halfway through. I cooked my bird above breast side down the entire time, and it still turned out delicious, and I got a deeper golden color on the top.
For the best roast chicken ever, don’t forget to dry and salt your bird well before baking, and use a proper sized pan for your whole chicken. “If there’s too much room on the side, steam forms,” Jacobson said.
Before carving, let your bird sit for at least 10 minutes to let juices rest into the meat.
Rosemary Roast Chicken
Makes: 2 servings
1 tablespoon minced rosemary or tarragon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus 2 tablespoons melted One 2 ½- to 3-pound roasting, broiling, or frying chicken
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup large diced carrots
1 cup large diced celery
1 cup large diced onion
2 tablespoons minced shallots
½ cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock
3 feet of kitchen string, for trussing
Shallow roasting pan with rack
Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a small bowl combine 1 tablespoon of the rosemary or tarragon and the softened butter. Blend well.
Loosen the chicken skin by inserting your fingers between it and the flesh of the breast. Place ½ tablespoon of the herb butter under the skin on each side of the breast. Truss the chicken, dry the outside well and rub the skin all over with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Season with salt and pepper. Truss the chicken with kitchen twine.
Distribute the carrots, celery and onions under the chicken. Place chicken on rack breast-side down and roast it for 30 minutes. Then, turn it over and roast the chicken breast up for 30 minutes. Cut between thigh and drumstick. If juice is clear remove from oven. If not roast another 15 minutes at 350°F.
Transfer the chicken to a warm platter. Remove the string and let stand at least 10 minutes before carving so the chicken’s juices will retreat into the tissues.
Pour the juices and vegetables from the roasting pan into a strainer, pressing down to extract all the juices. Discard the vegetables. Degrease the cooking juices, reserving 2 tablespoons of the fat.
Return the reserved fat to the roasting pan. Stir in the minced shallots and cook until lightly colored, 2 to 3 minutes. Deglaze the pan with white wine, scraping up the coagulated juices with a wooden spoon. Add the degreased juices and 2 cups stock and boil rapidly over high heat. Let the liquid reduce to about ¾ cup. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the remaining tablespoon of herb butter. Pour the sauce over the chicken or serve it separately in a gravy boat.