Roasting a chicken is a very personal thing; those of us who are regular chicken roasters (and, in the winter, roasting a chicken is almost a weekly act for me) know what we like. For me, that’s a combination of fennel seeds, cayenne pepper, and kosher salt on the outside of the skin and thyme stuffed inside (see here). That recipe comes from the Chez Panisse cookbook and no matter how many other roast chicken recipes I try–the River Cottage one, for example–no chicken has been able to unseat the Chez Panisse chicken. That is, until last week.
Last week, I cracked open the Christmanukkah present I got from Craig’s parents–Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home (thanks Julee and Steve!)–and decided to plunge in with the most alluring recipe I encountered on first flip-through: the roast chicken.
It’s not that his recipe was particularly revolutionary. Putting chicken in a pan with vegetables and roasting it is pretty much a technique you’ll find in any and every cookbook on your shelf. No, what got me excited was his specificity: the specificity of the vegetables he wants you to roast (“tennis-ball-sized rutabagas,” “golf-ball-sized red-skinned potatoes”), the specificity of the oil (canola oil instead of olive oil, because it’s neutral), and the specificity of the oven temperature (475 for the first 20 minutes, then 400 for the remaining 45 minutes).
God is in the details, as Thomas Keller well knows, and the chicken that came out of my oven last week was perfectly bronzed, a gorgeous golden-brown, and the vegetables were even sexier, deeply caramelized and slick with chicken fat. The vegetables, in fact, became the star of the show: while Craig and I devoured the chicken, we positively demolished the vegetables. Don’t skimp on the rutabagas or the leeks, they’re what make this dinner special.
Is Chez Panisse dethroned? For the time being, yes. At the very least, I’ll continue using canola oil (it makes the chicken more chickeny) and roasting a variety of vegetables with the chicken instead of just potatoes. And using those oven temperatures. And bringing the chicken to room temperature before roasting. And putting butter on the chicken breast before it goes in the oven. Oh, who am I kidding, this recipe is flawless: it’s my new official chicken recipe. I’m guessing it’ll be yours too as soon as you try it.
Thomas Keller’s Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables
4 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed, and cut in half
1 small yellow onion, trimed, leaving root end intact, and cut into quarters
8 small (golf-ball-sized) red-skinned potatoes
1/3 cup canola oil
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until it comes to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 475 F.
Remove the neck and innards if they are still in the cavity of the chicken. Using a paring knife, cut out the wishbone from the chicken. (This will make it easier to carve the chicken.) Generously season the cavity of the chicken with salt and pepper, add 3 of the garlic cloves and 5 sprigs of thyme, and massage the inside of the bird to infuse it with the flavors. Truss the chicken.
Cut off the dark green leaves from the top of the leeks. Trim off and discard the darkened outer layers. Trim the root ends, cutting around them on a 45-degree angle. Slit the leeks lengthwise almost in half, starting 1/2 inch above the root ends. Rinse the leeks well under warm water.
Cut off both ends of the rutabagas. Stand the rutabagas on end and cut away the skin, working from top to bottom and removing any tough outer layers. Cut into 3/4-inch wedges. Repeat with the turnips, cutting the wedges to match the size of the rutabagas.
Combine all the vegetables and remaining garlic cloves and thyme sprig in a large bowl. Toss with 1/4 cup of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread the vegetables in a large cast-iron skillet or a roasting pan.
Rub the remaining oil over the chicken. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Make a nest in the center of the vegetables and nestle the chicken in it.
Cut the butter into 4 or 5 pieces and place over the chicken breast.
Put the chicken in the oven and roast for 25 minutes. Reduce the heat to 400 F and roast for an additional 45 minutes, or until the temperature registers 160 F in the meatiest portions of the bird–the thighs, and under the breast where the thigh meets the breast–and the juices run clear. If necessary, return the bird to the oven for more roasting; check it every 5 minutes.
Transfer the chicken to a carving board and let rest for 20 minutes.
Just before serving, set the pan of vegetables over medium heat and reheat the vegetables, turning them and glaazing them with the pan juices.
Cut the chicken into serving pieces, arrange over the vegetables and serve.