A few months ago, Melissa Clark asked if anyone really needed another roast chicken recipe? And then, she answered in the affirmative. After trying this technique - I'll suggest you may need no other the next time someone asks. This one, you need. I would be hard-pressed to think of a time I'd do a roast chicken differently. It's near to perfection and dead easy. Pretty quick. Nothing wrong with that combination! I call it a technique more than a recipe because that's what I take away. I've tried it three or four times since the article caught my eye back in May and not once have I made exactly as this recipe calls for, that is to say, not with ramps. What I have done, is to take this method and added my own Chinese Five Spice powder and other vegetables, but the technique and inspiration, I owe to Melissa.
The secret is a cast iron skillet and screaming hot oven. Starting with a really good quality bird doesn't hurt either.
Look Ma! No Fat!*
Six Steps to Perfect Chicken (Seven including cocktails)
I start rice and rinse my veg before the chicken goes into the oven.
Step one: Rinse the best chicken you can afford (this one was on sale at Whole Foods, 4.5 lbs for something like $8. We had 4-5 servings and a good carcass for stock!) Pat it dry. Sprinkle with homemade or store-bought 5 spice powder. Place uncovered on a plate in the fridge overnight to dry the skin which makes it crispy. (This could be day two or done on the same day a few hours later. The idea is to give the chicken a good day in the fridge, even several hours. Try it, you'll thank me.)
Step two: Jack your (clean) oven up to 500 degrees, with your large cast iron skillet inside.
Step three: Splay thighs. Cut the skin that connects the leg to the bird, and spread those legs! Pop the hip joints out so the thighs will lie flat on the skillet. Pop a lemon half or two into the cavity, if you remember.
Step five: When oven has pre-heated, carefully slide the rack out with that screaming hot pan and place the chicken on the hot skillet, pressing the legs down. Then slide rack back into the hot oven.
Step six: Have a drink while you try to remember the last time - cough, cough - you cleaned the oven. Remove (or slide rack out) the chicken after 20 minutes, nestle some greens and some garlic smashed or sliced, between the hot, hot pan and the gorgeous chicken. Return to oven.
Step seven: Ten minutes later, remove pan from oven. Careful it's very hot. I leave oven mitts near the pan to remind myself. Sometimes it even works.
Let the chicken rest, while you pour wine or iced tea, plate the rice.
EAT. You will marvel at the crispy, browned skin. You'll cry out in joy over the moist breast and perfect thighs. You'll nibble the greens and garlic with rice realizing the only adornment needed is only the juices spooned from the pan. You'll feel virtuous that you used no fat at all and dirtied no other pots.
Praising yourself for the lack of fat used in the one-pan meal, you'll sit back and tell yourself that maybe tomorrow, cough, you'll finally clean the oven. Maybe.
1) To make any roast chicken, this technique or another, I highly recommend you rinse an organic, air-chilled chicken off then pat it dry. Set it uncovered in the fridge overnight to dry out the skin. This makes for a nice crisp skin. Even a good three hours helps.
2) If roasting whole, I like a V-rack (see Fennel Pollen roast chicken), which suspends the bird and also holds it together a bit, as if it were semi-trussed. But this new cast-iron technique, this is a keeper. I may never use my V-rack again (it's okay, inverted in my cabinet, it makes a very nice lid organizer.)
3) My Five spice powder has evolved to include coriander seed. So technically, this makes it Six spice powder. Start with the five and see what you think. I think a Garam Masala would be great, too. Or an Herbes de Provence.
4) Greens I've used successfully in this recipe include: Shanghai broccoli (rinse, halve) and Mushrooms; Dandelion greens and slices of garlic; Chard and garlic.
5) I don't think the whole chicken of this size took even 40 minutes beginning to end. I have a convection oven and that reduces the cooking time some. I use tongs about 20-30 minutes in to jiggle the leg, sometimes hit the breast with a thermometer. You will know your oven best or get to know it. My feeling is that you can always put the chicken back in if it's undercooked, but most people are used to overcooked, dried out chicken. This technique cooks the bird quickly in high heat, somehow retaining the moisture in the bird.
*Technically this is not a fat-free meal, just no added fat. But this can be our secret. I don't even put any fat on the bird. No butter, no oil, none in the pan. And the veg are cooked in the fat/juices from the chicken. That is it. Tasty, tasty.