Food & Drink

From the recipe files: A truly great roast chicken

It’s worth a little advance planning to make a great roast chicken.
It’s worth a little advance planning to make a great roast chicken. Observer files/Todd Sumlin

Looking for a recipe from The Observer’s files? We have thousands of them. All you have to do is use this blue search form. Don’t worry – you don’t have to fill out the whole thing. Just enter the main word in the recipe name (“shrimp,” for instance, or “chicken”). Or look for a specific category from the pull-down menu. Or fill in something specific, like “Servings: 2.” If you want to narrow your search, fill in more details.

In the meantime, here’s a recipe from our archives: Last year in March, Kathleen Purvis tried roast chicken methods from three famous chefs, Julia Child, Thomas Keller and Judy Rodgers of the Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. Each one took a different approach.

Our favorite? Rodger’s salt-rubbed chicken takes a longer, but results in the best bird. You can always use a great roast chicken.

Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken

From "The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, " by Judy Rodgers (W.W. Norton, 2002). This method, sometimes called dry brining, also makes a great roasted turkey.

1 whole chicken (we used a 4.7-pound chicken, although Rodgers prefers a 3-pound bird)

4 (1/2-inch-long) herb sprigs (thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage)

3/4 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt per pound (3 1/2 teaspoons for 4.7 pounds)

1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper

TWO to three days before cooking, remove any lumps of fat around the opening of the cavity. Pat very dry with paper towels inside and out. Gently slide your finger under the skin on both sides of the breasts and the thickest part of the thigh, making pockets. Slide the herbs under the skin.

SEASON the chicken with the salt and pepper, seasoning more heavily around the thicker sections like the breast than the skinny wings and leg tips. Sprinkle a little just inside the cavity, along the backbone. Tuck the wing tips under the back. Cover loosely and refrigerate two to three days.

PREHEAT oven to 475 degrees. Choose a shallow roasting pan, a 10-inch skillet or an ovenproof baking dish that's barely larger than the chicken. Preheat over medium heat. Wipe the chicken dry and place it, breast up, in the pan; it should sizzle.

PLACE in the center of the oven. After 20 minutes, it should be sizzling and browning; if it isn't, increase the heat 25 degrees (if it's browning too fast or smoking, reduce the heat by 25 degrees). After 30 minutes, turn the chicken breast-down. Roast 10 to 20 minutes longer, depending on size. Turn breast-up and roast 5 to 10 minutes, or until the thickest part of the thigh is 155 degrees.

REMOVE from oven and let stand 5 to 10 minutes. Carefully pour off the clear fat from the pan, leaving the drippings. Add about 1 tablespoon water to the hot pan and swirl it. Add any juices from the chicken, bring to a boil, then serve with the chicken.

Yield: 4 servings.