You may have heard some Chefs say that in order to judge a prospective cook’s abilities they ask them to prepare a simple roast chicken. While I have never seen this done in an actual professional kitchen, there is something to be said for stripping away the bells and whistles that some chef’s rely on. Respect for proper techniques and the sophistication of knowing that great products should not be overwhelmed would certainly be qualities I would appreciate in any cook.
I rarely use the word perfect for anything. Occasionaly, though, I like to step out on a limb for a particular subject, and proclaim that I know what perfection is and that I know how to achieve it. In the case of roast chicken, I first encountered perfection when I began working with David Leiderman to reopen Chez Louis Bistro in midtown Manhattan. David’s roast chicken epiphany came when he first visited L’Ami Louis in Paris. There, they roast the finest Bresse chickens to juicy crispiness in a high-heat wood-burning oven. They serve them with a garlic potato cake, and when you hear David describe it you want to hop the next flight to Paris to indulge.
David developed some steps to reproduce the L’Ami Louis roast chicken back here in the US which I will share with you here. Taken separately they are quite common culinary techniques. Combined together they produce a “perfect” roast chicken!!!!
Perfect Roast Chicken:
Note: Since Bresse chickens are hard to find in the US (and extremely expensive if you do find them), I use Murray’s brand Free Range Chickens. I prefer the 3 1/2 # size.
1) BRINE – Brine chickens for about one hour in a solution of 1 cup Kosher salt per gallon of water. Remove and pat dry.
2) MARINATE – Prepare a marinade of chopped fresh tarragon, thyme, and rosemary, chopped garlic, and enough vegetable oil just to make a spreadable mixture. Spread marinade on inside and outside of chicken and marinate for a few hours or preferably overnight.
3) SMOKE – This step is optional and is an attempt to recreate the slight wood flavor that a wood-burning oven would impart to a roast chicken. Cover the bottom of a heavy roasting pan with wood chips (apple is best), and place on top of a medium flame until the chips begin to smoke (you need a well ventilated kitchen, or you can bring it outside after removing from the heat). Turn off burner, place a wire rack over chips, and place chicken on rack. Cover with an inverted roasting pan of the same size, or with aluminum foil. Let smoke for about 10 minutes. You can do this step and then refrigerate chicken again until ready to use.
4) SEAR – Pat chicken skin until dry. Heat a heavy roasting pan on a high flame until very hot. Add a few drops vegetable oil, then sear chicken on all sides until nicely browned. Alternately if you have a gas or charcoal grill at hand you can sear the chicken on that until lightly charred.
5) ROAST – This should be done on the highest setting of your oven. For most ovens this is 550F. Yes, the chicken will splatter the oven a bit, but this is the way to get a nice crisp skin. The chicken does not need additional seasoning before roasting. Place chicken in your roasting pan, and set on medium shelf of oven. You may need to cover the tips of the legs with aluminum foil to prevent them from burning. Roast the chicken for about 30 minutes. Test doneness by inserting a metal thermometer into the spot where the leg joins the body. When the thermometer reads 150F remove chicken from oven and “carryover” cooking should bring it to 160F. You should let the chicken “rest” for 10 – 30 minutes before carving. Don’t cover chicken with foil at any point in the roasting or “resting” periods.
Carve, and enjoy!!!
At Cafe du Soleil we serve the roast chicken with roasted garlic rosemary potatoes, whole roasted garlic, and romesco sauce.