A year or two ago, I got rid of my roasting pan. Not because I’m anti-roasting pan, or because I needed the space, but because I realized that my roasting pan had a non-stick surface and that I’d been scratching it up with a metal spatula over the years and that there was a teensy, tiny chance I’d been exposing myself and my loved ones to carcinogens whenever I roasted a chicken and that we’re all going to die and it’s all my fault.
So these days, when I roast a chicken, I rely on my largest cast iron skillet. Frankly, I think it works better. And I riff on the beloved Thomas Keller roast chicken recipe, the one I’ve been making for the past eight years, combining assorted root vegetables and potatoes and garlic in the bottom of the pan with a splash of vegetable oil, salt, and pepper, and then topping it with a chicken that I stuff with thyme and garlic, also rub with vegetable oil, before sprinkling with lots of salt and pepper. Only, I’ve been much bolder with a certain ingredient to really make my roast chicken shine. Can you guess what it is?
Let us all acknowledge the truth about roast chicken: it’s not about the chicken, it’s about the vegetables. That truth dawned on me long ago when I used to line a roasting pan with red potatoes sliced in half, all surrounding a well-seasoned chicken; the rendered chicken fat would coat the potatoes, they’d get all crispy, and when it was time to eat, the actual roast chicken was an afterthought. It only got better when I discovered Thomas Keller’s roast chicken: in with the potatoes went leeks, carrots, parsnips, rutabaga, turnips, and suddenly next to that pretty little bird would be vegetables as beautiful as the crown jewels. Now imagine turning those salty, schmaltzy vegetables into soup, a soup that takes about 5 minutes.
Here was the deal: my favorite roast chicken recipe is this one from Thomas Keller. (Sidebar: I’m currently in San Francisco and last night I ate at Zuni, and as I was leaving the bathroom who did I lock eyes with? Thomas Keller. Turns out he goes to the bathroom too; food gods are just like us!) The problem, though, is that the Thomas Keller roast chicken with root vegetables is an event. It requires that you use your roasting pan; it involves a shopping-cart full of turnips, rutabaga, carrots, onions, and potatoes. It’s not really practical for a weeknight. As for my usual weeknight roast chicken, I’d normally wind up putting the chicken in my All-Clad metal skillet so that I could make a sauce in there afterwards (see here), roasting the vegetables separately. That was OK. Then I remembered my trusty friend the cast iron skillet. What if I did the Keller thing in there? What happened next will astound you (how’s that for an UpWorthy paragraph ender?).
For as long as I’ve been roasting chickens (and I roast chickens all the time) I’ve been throwing away the liver that comes stuffed inside, along with the giblets, because–well–I don’t know: am I supposed to cook and eat that thing?
Well, yes. I mean not all the time. But they don’t put it in there to throw away, right? It’s in there because a chicken died and one of its parts tastes very delicious if you know how to cook it the right way. In fact, cooked the right way a seared chicken liver competes with the pope’s nose as one of the major treats afforded to you, alone, in the kitchen when you’re cooking chicken. So here’s what you need to do….
Two of my favorite dinners in the world are roast chicken and pasta. In fact, if I had a death sentence looming over my head, I’d ask to be executed twice so I could have two last meals, one a roast chicken, the other a big plate of pasta. Luckily, that’s no longer an issue because of this recipe which comes to us from Julia Moskin and the cookbook she co-wrote with Kim Severson, CookFight.
The recipe’s ingenious in the way that it utilizes the good stuff left over from roasting chicken pieces (in this case, thighs) to create a luscious sauce that clings to the pasta and stretches that comforting, roast chicken flavor to every strand.
As an experiment, I went on to YouTube late last night and typed in a chef’s name and added “roast chicken.” What you’ll find in this post are the results (though I eventually strayed from YouTube), starting with Thomas Keller’s stellar technique above (one worth studying, even for old hands at roast chicken). What’s so intriguing about seeing all of these videos together is how one basic ingredient–a big dead bird–can be approached in so many unique and inspiring ways. Here, now, are the other 14.
It occurred to me last Thursday that one of the best recipes in my repertoire isn’t even something that I consider a recipe. It’s a thing that I’ve done for years and years–I talked about it in my video “How To Roast a Chicken”–and, yet, when I look at it by itself, separate from the main event, this thing that I do is pretty extraordinary. And that’s cutting small potatoes in half and placing them cut-side down around a whole chicken before it goes into the oven.
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.