The Best Of All Chickens
July 7, 2012 8:09 PM   Subscribe

Today, a chicken was killed. And now, it is sitting in my fridge. Given that this is probably the highest-quality chicken I've ever had the chance to eat, how should I prepare it?

I have two goals that I'd like to meet, when it comes to cooking this chicken:

Goal 1: make it as tasty and as wonderful as possible.
Goal 2: make it so I can really appreciate the difference in quality between this and regular, store-bought chickens.

How can I best go about meeting these two goals as much as possible? I know to wait a few days, but after that, I'm not sure. I'm most curious about whether or not I should brine it -- I've heard that one should always brine poultry, but I don't want to mask or destroy it's natural flavor.

Any suggestions?
posted by meese to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I'd spit roast it. The white meat is going to seem more like commercial dark meat (in terms of chickeny-intensity) and the dark meat might be shocking. A simple preparation, like roasting (either on a spit or in a pan), seasoned with salt and pepper with a few herbs in the cavity is likely to be a good way for you to notice the differences.

Don't overcook it.
posted by janell at 8:15 PM on July 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

you should dry-brine it, which just means showering it with a tablespoon or so of kosher salt and setting it on a rack over a plate, uncovered, in the fridge for a day or so. It's just seasoning the chicken from the inside out—you're not masking the flavor any more than you would be if you added salt to the skin just before cooking. The rest period gives the meat time to eventually suck saline into the cells, which means juicy, well-seasoned flesh. It has the added benefit of drying the skin enough to get it crackling crisp.

How big is the chicken? If it's four pounds or less, I suggest roasting it in a hot (450F) oven for an hour. Thyme and pepper if you want. Make a little pan sauce while it rests, the drippings will be fantastic. If it's larger, or it's too hot in your house to roast, spatchcock it and cook it under a cast iron skillet on the grill. I agree that simpler is better.
posted by peachfuzz at 8:15 PM on July 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I roast mine, salt on the skin, nothing else. The dark meat is absolutely delicious, the skin is tasty, the carcass makes better broth than I've gotten any other way, and the breast meat ends up in whatever other dishes I have planned. (Or once, notably, covered in parm, warmed up, and devoured.) I've never tried dry-brining but I may next time - salty is good!
posted by restless_nomad at 8:22 PM on July 7, 2012

This is a good recipe for dry-brining and roasting your chicken, if you like having recipes.
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:36 PM on July 7, 2012 [11 favorites]

I will jam a whole (small) pierced lemon into the cavity, a few cloves of garlic, some small onions or shallots, etc.

If you're roasting it on a pan, line the pan with thick slices of onions, long stalks of celery sliced flat, carrots sliced flator into fat rounds - anything you'd want in a tasty chicken soup, basically. Slap the chicken down on top of the veg slices, and these will roast up deliciously in the chicken drippings. When we used to do it in our outdoor lazy summertime kitchen, someone would be deputized to wield the spray bottle of white wine and give the bird a spritz every 15 minutes or so. SO TASTY.

Then, when your roaster is done, you've got the pan drippings and your pan roasted mirepoix ready to go for the bones and necks later on.
posted by elizardbits at 8:40 PM on July 7, 2012 [7 favorites]

snorkmaiden links to the Zuni Cafe roasted chicken recipe . . . I have used this recipe several dozen times and it is extraordinary.
posted by donovan at 8:42 PM on July 7, 2012

Another's worth seeking out the actual zuni cookbook for the (multi-page) roast chicken recipe—there's a lot of very specific detail packed in there about how the chicken should look, sound, smell, feel at every stage of the roast, which is all very useful and informative for perfecting the process and making any given chicken into the best chicken it can be. It's a very easy recipe, and worth dialing in, because it's really good and very useful as a go-to Good Dinner. The bread salad that goes with it is nice, too.
posted by peachfuzz at 8:48 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

How old was this chicken? What you might do with a 12 week old bird is completely different from what you might do with a 2 year old laying hen.
posted by bricoleur at 9:00 PM on July 7, 2012 [8 favorites]

Simple is best. This is the best simple I have used.
posted by uncaken at 9:09 PM on July 7, 2012

Thomas Keller's Recipes: Simple (SLYT), and with Root Vegetables
posted by snaparapans at 9:20 PM on July 7, 2012

I was in a similar situation once, and I decided that the best way to do justice to this exceptional chicken was to spend about 12 hours slowly but surely turning it into one of Madhur Jaffrey's Chicken Korma recipes (it wasn't this exact one -- mine involved soaking the saffron in rosewater rather than heavy cream).

It probably would have taken less than twelve hours if I knew how to properly take apart a chicken.
posted by Sara C. at 9:21 PM on July 7, 2012

How big is it? When we process our birds, we usually keep a small (3-ish pound) and a medium (4-ish pound) fresh. The small one we part out and make fried chicken. The medium one we either spatchcock and roast, as peachfuzz says, or just roast whole upright, or else we do a salt&pepper and roast at 450º. Baste with butter melted with some thyme in it for flavor. Add a lemon and/or onion in the cavity if you like. As others have said, do not overcook. Do you have a meat thermometer? Don't worry too much if this chicken is a few degrees under USDA recommendations.

Also, this year I realized that reheated chicken skin is chewy and weird. So now, when there are leftover pieces, we eat all the skin before we put the rest back in the fridge. It's just going to go to waste, right? Might as well eat ALL THE DELICIOUS CRISPY CHICKEN SKIN.

My mister, stet, wants me to reinforce that you should let it rest for 24-72 hours after slaughter (longer = better). We have heard about resting chicken from various sources but never been able to verify it scientifically. stet says he's heard it from someone authoritative recently. I could swear one of us posted about it here but can't find it now. But anyway, conventional farmer wisdom is don't eat it for at least 24 hrs, and 48-72 if you can swing it.

Good chicken is SO GOOD.
posted by librarina at 9:43 PM on July 7, 2012

Ugh, I reviewed it several times, but "spatchcock and roast ... or roast whole upright" should read "spatchcock and GRILL, or grill whole upright."

Spatchcocking is handy; look it up.
posted by librarina at 9:45 PM on July 7, 2012

Just came in to recommend the Zuni recipe.
posted by bitdamaged at 9:53 PM on July 7, 2012

Response by poster: To answer questions: it's a big bird, 5 pounds, and it's relatively young. (Not much more than 12 weeks, though I don't remember exactly.)

They dry-brining sounds like an excellent idea -- I'd never even heard of that! I'm having trouble choosing between the different roasting plans: high heat or, like Heston Blumenthal says, low heat. If you have more suggestions, keep them coming. My SO will probably look through this thread and decide what to do tomorrow.
posted by meese at 10:03 PM on July 7, 2012

I use uncaken's plan, above. (It's entirely possible I found it here, actually.)
posted by restless_nomad at 10:15 PM on July 7, 2012

I researched all kinds of different roasted-chicken recipes earlier this year, paying special attention to all the high-end cookbooks from Blumenthal, River Cottage, Robuchon, Waters, Hamersley, Hazan, etc. I ended up making a separate chart just for the roasting temperatures because the variation got to be so ridiculous, from below 300 all the way up to 500 degrees. Some tell you to start high and then reduce the heat, and others reverse that. The one thing that was consistent was that there was no consistency whatsoever. Temperature recommendations were all over the map—or rather, the thermometer.

I roast a chicken maybe once every week or two and I'm always trying to improve, but I'm not an expert. I won't recommend a particular temperature or method. Just adding a data point to say that from my informed experience, there doesn't appear to be a "best" or uniformly recommended temperature.
posted by cribcage at 10:25 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here is one version of the Zuni cafe recipe. It is my standard go-to.
posted by redbeard at 10:52 PM on July 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd say to roast it with whichever technique is more comfortable or familiar for your prior chickeny experiences. Unless you don't have airconditioning. In which case you should fry it. Don't let yourself overthink this too much, the best thing you can do is just make your favorite simple chicken dish and appreciate the extra chickeniness.

Oh, but don't throw away any bits or bones. Make stock.
posted by desuetude at 11:42 PM on July 7, 2012

Save the bones, neck, and feet if you have them - PLEASE make stock you portion, and put in the freezer.

Please. That is all.

(Do I save my cooked and knawed on bones for stock from an exceptional bird for stock? Why, yes - yes I do.)
posted by jbenben at 12:59 AM on July 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

In 2005, British chef Simon Hopkinson's cookery book Roast Chicken and Other Stories was voted the most useful cookbook of all time by a [British] panel of chefs and food writers.

This is his roast chicken recipe.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:56 AM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I get my chickens from a farm hereabouts and I always do a simple toast at about 375.

I find that a bird that runs around is more muscular and chewy than a regular grocery store bird. It's no problem, but FYI.

Enjoy your chicken and may it be the first of many.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:00 AM on July 8, 2012

I roast chicken the Zuni Cafe way, at 450 for 50 minutes with a touch of 475 on the front end. My father roasts them low and slow, at 325 for I think almost 2 hours. Both ways get rave reviews from eaters, but I prefer the high because of the delicious crispy skin and the crispy skin flavour it lends to the rest of the chicken and drippings. You can't get that at 325.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:29 AM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also do a simplified version of the Zuni Roast Chicken. It's always worked well for me with the exception that when I flip the chicken, the skin on the breast splits. I protect the breast with a slice of ham that I remove for the final breast up cooking.

Basically I do a variation of this:

rub chicken all over with a blend of kosher salt, peppercorns, fennel seed, red pepper flakes, a grain or two of cardamom, all ground together in a spice grinder. Rub under the skin as much as possible. add herbs or whatever if you have them, but nothing wet like lemons or garlic. Let sit for a minimum of 4 hours to 2 days in the fridge. Bring to room temp before cooking.

Heat cooking pan in oven at 475. Use toothpicks to pin a slice of ham to chicken breast. Do not truss. Toss chicken breast down into hot pan in oven. Set timer for 20 minutes.

If the bird gets too smoky, turn oven down to 350. When timer sounds, flip bird over and continue roasting until meaty parts of bird reach 165 degrees (usually 15-25 more minutes).

Let chicken rest 15 minutes before carving. Do not tent, lest you ruin the perfect crispy skin.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:57 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

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