Perfecting the Balance of Crispy Skin and Moist Meat
The Quest: A Simple, Perfectly Roasted Chicken. A humble, seemingly easy dish that unfortunately is as elusive as a unicorn or a five-leaf clover. I mean, how hard should it be to roast the perfect chicken? Let’s analyze what makes it perfect and figure out how to easily do it every single time.
Classics can be phenomenal when done right. A simple roast chicken dish could be the best thing you ever eat. — Joe Bastianich
There are two attributes I look for in a perfect chicken; salty, crunchy, crispy skin and juicy, moist, and flavorful meat. For our readers that are looking for instant results or are more visual learners, Lisa and I created a simple video to help you roast perfect chickens in your house, every time.
For everyone else, keep reading.
Humans are evolutionarily wired to prefer fatty and sweet tastes because they are a very efficient source of energy, and our bodies are wired for survival. — Lisa Cimperman, dietitian at University Hospitals Case Medical Center.
Salty, Crispy, Crunchy (Fat)
You can say you don’t like crunchy fat, but you’d only be lying to yourself. It’s one of life’s most decadent and quilty pleasures, maybe even one of the healthiest and wisest choice you could make.
We all love potato chips. They satisfy our desires for salty, crispy, and crunchy fatty foods that have been hardwired into our DNA since we were hunters and gatherers. It was our body’s survival method to survive hunger and famines in our evolutionary past. Geneticist James Neel called them ‘thrift genes’. They allowed us to extract maximum calories and store them efficiently for later use.
It’s the right decision. We got the dietary guidelines wrong. They’ve been wrong for decades. — Steve Nissen, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic
After 60 years of misinformation and bad science on cholesterol, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, responsible for the US dietary guidelines, have changed their position on healthy animal fats. Looks like the research of Weston A. Price, a dentist who traveled the world studying the health effects of indigenous diets was correct.
Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a senior research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), believes while it’s difficult to get “too much” cholesterol in your diet. You may very well be getting too little, and that can cause serious problems. Dr. Mercola writes “It also plays an essential role in your brain, which contains about 25 percent of the cholesterol in your body. It is critical for synapse formation, i.e. the connections between your neurons, which allow you to think, learn new things, and form memories.”
“Mayo Clinic researchers showed that individuals favoring carbohydrates in their diets had a remarkable 89% increased risk for developing dementia as contrasted to those whose diets contained the most fat. Having the highest levels of fat consumption was actually found to be associated with an incredible 44% reduction in risk for developing dementia.”
Once again, we can blissfully eat animal fats without worry.
Juicy, Moist, Flavorful
Here’s where the nexus of great chicken breeds and diet meets sustainability and common sense in the roasting pan. Remember the old adage: You are what you eat. The same applies to chickens. Look for chickens that are allowed to roam free and run around a farm, foraging for protein-rich bugs and worms. No longer are we locked into the world of having to eat unethically raised caged birds that companies like Purdue and Tyson have championed for decades. Nowadays, everyone has easy access to real chickens.
Have you ever roasted a bird and ended up with a pan full of pinkish water? Here is why: Since the 1990s, the USDA has required that chickens be cooled to below 40 degrees within four hours of slaughter. Most processors take the cheaper route and dip birds into giant vats of ice water. Dipping in water obviously raises the amount of moisture found in a chicken, which may sound good on the surface, who doesn’t love moist chicken? What happens, in reality, is the flavor becomes diluted and it is damn near impossible to get crispy skin. Studies have shown that as much as 12% of the weight is added water content. And yes, the same vat of water is used over and over, increasing the possibility of cross-contamination and disease.
Look for air-chilled chickens. Air chilling is where chickens go through chambers where purified chilled air is blown over the carcass. The birds are quickly cooled and best of all, nothing is added. These birds will have a purer flavor and superior texture.
The General Rules of Roasting (and Eating Chicken)
- Pick a free-range air-chilled bird about 3.5 pounds who is fed either an organic or natural diet.
- Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Let your oven warm all the way up before cooking.
- Season chicken with liberal amounts of sea salt, black pepper, herbs de Provence, and piment d’ville. Don’t worry conservative friends, here is the chance where liberal does good, even for you. Be sure to heavily salt the opening of the cavity; this is where the crispiest pieces of crackly crispy chicken will be. It is the true reward of whoever gets to bone the bird.
- Stuff half a lemon, a whole head of garlic cut in two and more fresh thyme and rosemary than you think. The lemon perfumes the bird in such a pleasant and nuanced way. Cooking is about building subtle layers that are almost imperceptible.
- Put a wire rack on a cookie sheet or sheet pan and roast bird 40 minutes breast side down. Yes, set your damned kitchen timer for this one, it’s science.
- Flip over and roast another full 40 minutes breast side up.
- Stand bird up with legs flailing in the air for 20 minutes before you cut the bird. The juices will redistribute throughout the bird and keep it juicy beyond imagination. Do not give in to temptation, be strong.
- Always roast a whole bird. It is silly, more expensive and wasteful not to do the whole bird. You will end up with enough meals for a few days and two to three quarts of delicious homemade chicken broth.
- After proper resting, cut the breasts, wings, legs, and thighs off. If you are smart you will eat both ‘oysters’ before anyone notices. The oysters are the tenderest piece of chicken and are located where the thigh bone connects to the carcass. Shh, don’t tell anyone I told you.
- Eat the breast on the first day and save the dark meat for the second. Yes, it almost sounds like a commandment so abide by it, the dude does. The breast comes out of the oven so perfectly juicy and tender it is a crime not to immediately.