Though I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting any of his restaurants, Thomas Keller certainly needs no introduction to me. I’ve been hearing about and reading about his genius in the kitchen for years. His multi-award winning, three Michelin star rated flagship restaurant, The French Laundry, is legendary. The rest of his fleet, Bouchon, Per Se and ad hoc are no slouches either.
A few weeks ago, I was watching Tony Bourdain’s No Reservations on TV. This particular episode was all about cooking techniques, and had several famous chefs demonstrating how to make various basic dishes, such as omelets, pasta and burgers. Thomas Keller was on board to show his method for making the perfect roast chicken. As soon as I saw him on the screen, I sat up and paid close attention. I just knew that there were going to be some fancy bells and whistles involved. Except, there weren’t. Thomas Keller roasts a chicken pretty much the same way most of us do – very, very simply. In fact, the only thing that I usually do that Keller doesn’t is rub a little fat on the bird before roasting. He explains that while it is perfectly acceptable to do so, he doesn’t because he feels it adds extra steam to the oven, making the chicken’s skin less crispy. Okay. That makes sense. Besides, who the heck am I to argue with Thomas Keller?
Keller also explains that the key to perfectly roasted chicken with an impossibly crispy skin is to make sure that the chicken is completely and indisputably dry before putting it in the oven. Oh, and you also need to use lots of salt – way more than I ever use.
1. No added fat on the bird;
2. Thoroughly dry the bird before roasting; and
3. Don’t be stingy with the salt.
When Keller’s chicken came out of the oven, I think my heart skipped a little beat. It looked fabulous! An unequivocal poultry masterpiece! As he cut into that chicken, its impeccably burnished skin gave way to some of the juiciest, most succulent meat I’d ever laid eyes on. For days, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had to try his chicken roasting technique for myself.
I was also planning to roast some potatoes to go along with my chicken dinner, when I remembered the way I’d seen it done at a market in Paris. There, the chickens were roasted on spits in a big glass oven. Huge pans filled with potatoes were placed to cook underneath the chickens. As the chickens roasted all of their luscious drippings and juices would rain down onto the potatoes, infusing them with the most amazing salty, chicken-y flavor. Oh, yeah! I decided to try to get the same effect by layering some thinly sliced potatoes and onions on the bottom of my pan and roasting my chicken on top of it.
So, let’s roast a chicken (and some potatoes) a la Thomas Keller!
First, get yourself a nice, free-range, organic chicken. Keller says to look for one weighing between 2 and 3 pounds, but unless you’re planning a dinner for one, I’d recommend a 3 to 3 1/2 pound bird. This guy below was a 3 1/2 pounder, and three of us picked it clean.
Melt some butter in your roasting pan. I used an unsalted cultured butter.
Arrange a layer of thinly sliced potatoes all around the bottom of the pan. I prefer Yukon Gold potatoes.
Scatter some thinly sliced onions on top of the potatoes.
Then, place your well-seasoned bird on top of the bed of potatoes and onions. Don’t make fun of my crappy trussing job. I can never get it right!
Put it all in a 450 F. oven and roast until the chicken is cooked through.
Hmmm. Let’s get a closer look at that crispy, roasted skin…..
Thomas Keller’s Simple Roast Chicken with Potatoes and Onions
adapted from Bouchon
2-3 tablespoons butter
3 or 4 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/8-rounds
1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
One 2 to 3 pound farm-raised chicken
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons minced thyme (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
2. Melt the butter in a large oven-proof frying pan or small roasting pan. Layer the potatoes all around the bottom of the pan, completely covering it. Scatter the onions over the potatoes. Set aside and prepare the chicken.
3. Rinse the chicken, then dry it very well with paper towels, inside and out. The less it steams, the drier the heat, the better. Salt and pepper the cavity, then truss the bird. Trussing is not difficult, and if you roast chicken often, it’s a good technique to feel comfortable with. When you truss a bird, the wings and legs stay close to the body; the ends of the drumsticks cover the top of the breast and keep it from drying out. Trussing helps the chicken to cook evenly, and it also makes for a more beautiful roasted bird.
4. Now, salt the chicken. Rain the salt over the bird so that it has a nice uniform coating that will result in a crisp, salty, flavorful skin (about 1 tablespoon). When it’s cooked, you should still be able to make out the salt baked onto the crisp skin. Season to taste with pepper.
5. Place the chicken on top of the potatoes and onions in the pan and put it in the oven. Leave it alone. Don’t baste it or add butter. This creates extra steam, which you don’t want. Roast until the chicken is cooked through and the potatoes are golden and a little crispy, about 50 to 60 minutes. Remove it from the oven and add the thyme, if using, to the pan. Baste the chicken with any juices from the pan and let it rest for 15 minutes on a cutting board.
6. Remove the twine. Separate the middle wing joint and eat that immediately. Remove the legs and thighs. Cut the breast down the middle and serve it on the bone, with one wing joint still attached to each. The preparation is not meant to be super-elegant. Slather the meat with fresh butter. Serve with the potatoes, onions and mustard on the side. You’ll start using a knife and fork, but finish with your fingers, because it’s so good.