Perfect Roast Chicken With Vegetables
February 19, 2014 4:55 AM   Subscribe

I'm on a quest for the perfect roast chicken with vegetables. How can I achieve it?

All I require is the following:
1. Moist, tender meat.
2. Crisp skin.
3. Delicious root vegetables that have soaked up yummy chicken juices.
4. No herbs or other weird bits stuck to the chicken skin. (I don't mind them, but my toddler will.)

Brining gets me 1 but not 2. This Mark Bitman recipe gets me 2 but not 3.

Is there a magic method that will get me all four requirements? I'm happy to put in some work and/or advance planning if the results justify it.
posted by yankeefog to Food & Drink (34 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
I've had very very good luck with this:
I add a bunch of cut up potatoes all around the edge of the chicken, and with that, and my oven, it takes about 2 hours instead of 1.5 or whatever that epinions recipe says.

Also, don't skip the wine step out of laziness, it's totally worth it.
posted by smcameron at 5:02 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I roast mine (just rubbed with butter, basic seasoning in the cavity) in a Dutch oven sitting on top of various root veggies and mushrooms. Couple of hours covered, then I imagine uncovering for the final 30 mins or so should crisp the skin. It's always seemed like lovely tender meat to me, and I'm very picky about white meat chicken -- I usually find it awfully dry.
posted by olinerd at 5:04 AM on February 19, 2014

I defer to Ruhlman. (Here's the naughtier version.)

Basically, salt liberally, let it dry, and roast it hot and fast. I would add vegetables in the last 30 minutes or so or they'll turn to mush.
posted by supercres at 5:05 AM on February 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

And here's the sauce you'll want to make with it, though it really doesn't need it.
posted by supercres at 5:07 AM on February 19, 2014

Spatchcock that bad-boy!

It's outrageously easy (ask your butcher to do it for you at the store) plop the chicken on a rack, put the veggies underneath. I use salt, pepper, garlic powder and some paprika, but whatever you like.

No fuss, muss or bother, and it's GORGEOUS!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:10 AM on February 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

Brine. This will get you #1.

Then spatchcock and dry it on a rack in the refrigerator for 24 hours. This will get you #2.

Then put the brined spatchcocked and dried chicken on top of a bed of your root vegetables of choice and roast to temperature. This will get you #3.

Protip A: I usually pull out the breast bone and thick bones, which I chuck into a ziplock in the freezer together with the backbone that gets cut out when spatchcocking. This not only makes it easier to serve, but when the ziplock fills up you can make chicken stock with the reserved bones.

Protip B: Run a sharp knife all the way around the "ankle" area of the drumstick to sever all the tendons, and ensure that the meat is moving freely by pushing it down the bone a little. This allows the meat to contract as it cooks, which helps to prevent that mealy "drumstick texture." If you want it to look nice, remove all the skin from the knuckle end of the drumstick after severing the tendons.
posted by slkinsey at 5:18 AM on February 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

I do basically what Laurie Colwin recommends, which is almost the opposite of Ruhlman.

Stuff half a lemon and maybe some garlic into the chicken, and then squeeze the lemon juice over the remaining half. Tuck some butter under the skin, and drizzle a bit of olive oil into the pan. Chop onions and assorted root veg and maybe mushrooms into largeish chunks and put them around the chicken, then drizzle a little more oil over them. (Failure to drizzle means that you end up with leathery veg, which I don't mind but many people do. If you're worried, you could toss the cubes with a bit of oil instead of drizzling.) =

I squeeze some lemon over the veg, as well, which you can do or not.

Then I put it in the oven at about 300, and I leave it there for three hours. I love it and could eat...well, a lot of this. It's kind of embarrassing.

Also, as a datapoint, brining can totally get crispy skin, but you have to dry the chicken really well (like, I leave mine air dry in the fridge for a few hours before roasting when I brine it) and sometimes roast it longer than you would have to roast an unbrined chicken. Possibly it says unflattering things about my palate, but I don't think it's worth it.
posted by MeghanC at 5:20 AM on February 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

1. Stuffed with citrus
2. Brushed with butter, and roasted extra hot for the first 15min. Say, 425-450 before turning it 375-400
3. Add about 45 min before you expect your bird to be done. Any nice root will do. Bonus points for heirloom (purple, golden) carrots from the kids.
4. When you brush the chicken with butter, season it simply with a bit of salt and pepper to taste.

I've mastered the roasted chicken in the past few years thanks to a partner who grew up with a consistent "sunday dinner". I could roast chickens all day, but I will say I've had mixed results with brine. To much prep and forethought required.
posted by Violet Femme at 5:25 AM on February 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

You're going to get conflicting advice here because even top chefs offer conflicting advice because of the tension between crisp skin and moist flesh. To see what I mean see this article, which compares roast chicken recipes from Thomas Keller, Annie Bell, Pierre Koffman, Simon Hopkinson and Matthew Fort. The "best" recipe involves high temperatures and a degree of poaching.

As for the roast vegetables? I favour a halved onion under the chicken and roast the vegetables for most of the time the chicken is resting. I'd do roast potatoes in goose fat separately.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:30 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding spatchcocking. Flatten the bird, rub some olive oil salt and pepper under/on the skin, let sit in the fridge for an hour. Line the bottom of a roasting pan with foil and fill with cut carrots, salt and pepper them too. Bird on top (skin up), roast for 40 min at 500°, turning the pan once. The carrots will blacken on one side - that's the best part!
posted by nicwolff at 5:35 AM on February 19, 2014

I use Zuni's method, which is dry brining (salt it the night before and let it air dry) and then roast at high temperature. I have done this in a variety of situations, including toaster oven and with various cuts (halved, pieces and spatchcocked) of chicken. It comes out great. The smoke can be intense so only do this if you got decent ventilation and a relatively clean oven.

The trick with the vegetables is getting the right size so they cook at a reasonable rate and do not come out half raw or burned. One technique, that has worked for me, has been poaching or parboiling. So big potatoes get chunked and boiled to a certain level of firmness, bashed around on the edges and then roasted with the chicken. The alternative is smash potatoes cooked in the juices of the chicken (a favorite) after it has been pulled to rest. Knowing the times that certain vegetable take to cook to the size to the tenderness you want is crucial. In a rush, I chunk, poach and roast vegetables in the chicken juices of the pan at a high temperature in the last 15 minutes of chicken roasting and continue cooking while the chicken is cooling on the cutting board.

Roast chicken is a simple dish that requires a lot of subtle cooking skills. I have been pursuing the perfect roast chicken for decades. I don't like chicken, much.
posted by jadepearl at 6:12 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I do the cafe Zuni recipe.

Which is pretty much Ruhlmans except they salt the bird the day ahead which is kind of a dry brine.
posted by bitdamaged at 6:13 AM on February 19, 2014

Doh just beat.
posted by bitdamaged at 6:14 AM on February 19, 2014

I put the chicken uncovered in a roasting tin along with one chopped sweet potato, one chopped apple, one chopped onion, and a bottle of cider.

It goes in for normal chicken roasting time and then while the chicken is resting you strain off the ciderous liquid (alcohol long gone) and thicken it up a bit for gravy.

This recipe meets all your requirements, plus it's the least faffy chicken dinner recipe I ever met.
posted by emilyw at 6:40 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would add vegetables in the last 30 minutes or so or they'll turn to mush.

Unless you are cutting them into tiny pieces or cooking at an odd temperature this won't work. Chunks of potatoes cook at the same speed as the chicken so everything can go in at the same time.

I basically do the Bittman recipe, but with vegetables around the chicken to soak up the juices. Sometimes I put an onion cut into quarters directly under the chicken but that's just a yummy extra, not mandatory. Start the oven hot and turn it down after you put the chicken in; exact temperatures and timing can be adjusted but I usually default to 425 at the beginning and then 375 for the cooking.

Brining and other steps are nice, but the best thing about the simple approach is that you can buy the chicken on your way home from work, toss it in the oven with potatoes, and be eating marvelous roast chicken just over an hour later. Bittman's recipe (with vegetables added) hits the perfect middle ground between ease and results.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:55 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

In this article, the author lays out step by step the best way to roast a chicken, and why. His advice boils down to: 1) Dry brine (i.e. salt) for 40 minutes + ; 2) spatchcock; 3) high heat. Oil brushed on halfway through cooking could add crispiness but I find it isn't necessary.

Of course, that's sans vegetables, but I've never had bad results from just cutting the vegetables (usually potatoes, carrots, broccoli, garlic cloves, sometimes green beans) bite-size, tossing them with salt, pepper, oil, and whatever spices you want, putting them in a single layer in the pan, then putting the chicken on top. You then get a spectrum of vegetables, from steamed-ish and tender under the chicken to dark and crunchy and caramelized at the edges. The textural contrast is nice.
posted by Maecenas at 7:01 AM on February 19, 2014

Best answer: Thomas Keller's roast chicken recipe, hands down. I make this at least twice per month and it has never failed.

I recommend starting with an organic, air chilled bird. It will be more expensive, but on the flip side, you're paying for chicken rather than chicken+retained water (especially when that retained water likely contains yucky things). Less water in the chicken also means crispier skin.

-Remove the wishbone for ease of carving
-Bird must be room temp before roasting
-Preheat oven to 425 degrees
-Heavily salt and pepper the inside and outside (you want a crust of salt on the skin, so be generous with this; use white pepper if the kiddo is sketched out by black pepper flakes)
-Stuff the chicken with fresh thyme
-Truss the chicken so it's compact
-Place in oven-safe saute pan (I usually just use my dutch oven)
-Roast about 45ish mins (for 3lb bird) until it reaches 160 degrees (at the place where the thigh meets the breast)
-Let rest for a few mins

I usually throw a mix of veg in the bottom of the dutch oven and set the chicken on top. Potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, etc. Just make sure to cut them according to how quickly they cook so they all come out at the right texture.

Tasty every time, I swear!
posted by melissasaurus at 7:42 AM on February 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have made pretty much every roast chicken recipe mentioned above, and they are all quite lovely. I mean, you can't really go wrong with a chicken roasted at home.

But I think for your purposes, the Thomas Keller recipe is what you want. It's bizarrely simple, but always turns out perfectly, and it has the crispest skin of any roast chicken recipe I've ever tried.

To add vegetables, I'd put the chicken in a roasting pan with a rack, and put the vegetables below the rack. TK thinks this recipe is all about avoiding liquids, so it'd be best if the chicken weren't sitting in liquids from the veggies. Alternatively, you could cook them in a separate pan and occasionally pour the pan juices over the veggies.
posted by leitmotif at 8:27 AM on February 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ina Garten's Perfect Roast Chicken recipe

We had this this past weekend and it was outrageously good and the veggies were perfect.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 8:45 AM on February 19, 2014

Yes, start with a room temperature bird.

Dry of water skin will crisp. A very little amount of butter on that dried skin makes it crisp better.

The veg will not roast unless coated in fat - be that olive oil, chicken fat from the bird, or the like.

I can't tell you the secret to getting 1, 2, and 3 because you haven't taken "The Oath." Heh.

Memail if you want the rest;-)
posted by jbenben at 9:10 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Normally, I roast my chicken very simply: dry thoroughly, salt and pepper generously inside and out. An organic lemon and a lot of parsley and tarragon inside, rub well with butter, roast on interval (grill/hot air) till done. I wouldn't like adding vegs to this, since both taste and crispiness of skin would be compromised. Sometimes I roast vegetables on the side in a different pan, because I have duck fat. Anything roasted in duck fat is good.
Recently, out of curiosity, I cooked a chicken in my pressure cooker. I put root vegetables, leeks onion, garlic and herbs in the bottom of the pan, added water to cover well, put in the stand and placed the chicken on top. Cooked for 6 minutes/pound, released steam and then put the chicken under the grill for crisp skin. Meanwhile, I took out the vegs, turned them in a dressing, and added cream to the liquids for a delicious sauce. I would do this again, though maybe experiment with taking off the skin entirely and frying it separately like a chicken bacon.
posted by mumimor at 9:16 AM on February 19, 2014

I use this recipe..

If you find your veggies aren't cooking in time I like to part cook them by boiling for 5 minutes or so,and then following the recipe above. I don't like undercooked spuds though so your tastes might be different. Sweet potato & Roast Pumpkin are easier to get right in the oven than normal potatoes in my experience.

If you have problems crisping your veg up I find it easier to cook the veg seperately on a flat tray instead of a higher sided roasting tray and to toss it in some of the chicken fat/juices half way through and put it back in.
posted by wwax at 10:09 AM on February 19, 2014

For some scientific analysis into this:
posted by rq at 11:06 AM on February 19, 2014

Ok so you want the best chicken you've ever had.

1) Obtain chicken. Put in a zippy bag. Fill bag with buttermilk and a couple tablespoons of grainy mustard. Add some thyme and rosemary sprigs if you're nasty. Leave this alone for 24 hours.

2) Remove chicken from bag. Over the sink, wipe off most of the buttermilk residue. Take some butter, half a pound maybe. Blend it with whatever flavourings you like, salt and pepper to taste. I go to tarragon, but if green leafy bits are bad, feel free to use garlic or some spices or nothing. Whatever you like. Get this butter softish and stuff it under any skin you can find.

3) Take the bacon fat you keep in the fridge (if you don't, start; just save some bacon grease for breakfast and that should be enough). Rub this all over the outside of the bird. Salt and pepper to taste, easy on the salt because of bacon fat.

4) Chop an onion and a bulb of fennel into halves or quarters and stuff 'em in the bird. Chop up potatoes and any other root veg you like (I love parsnip with chicken) and throw them on the pan under the grill or rack holding the bird. Roasting a chicken bare on the oven rack is also fine, though you may lose some skin.

5) Roast at 350f for 1/2 hour plus 1/2 hour per pound, breast side down. For the final hour, breast side up. For the final 1/2 hour, 400f. Remove from oven, tent with foil, rest for 20 minutes. Return to oven under broiler to crisp. Keep an eye on it.

6) Baste the bird every fifteenish minutes or so with the fat dripping everywhere.

7) For the final 25 minutes, throw some brussels sprouts under the bird. Toss them with honey, olive oil, s&p, and to-your-taste chili flake first.

8) Bask in the adoration of your minions.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:44 PM on February 19, 2014

Response by poster: Wow, thanks, everybody! That's my Sunday roast dinners sorted for the next few months. I'll try all the suggestions and report back as to which works best.
posted by yankeefog at 1:57 AM on February 20, 2014

Response by poster: Roast chicken report week 1: Thomas Keller method, as suggested by Melissasaurus and Leitmotif.

Chicken score: 9. Delicious meat, nicely browned skin, but maybe a little salty for my taste.

Veg score: 7. I tried putting them in later in the process, so they wouldn't overcook, but I think I put them in too late. They were cooked through to an acceptable degree but didn't get that delicious crust that perfect roast vegetables do. Next time, I would take Melissasaurus and Leitmotif's advice and just start with the vegetables in the pan under the roasting rack.

Overall verdict: Worthwhile for an occasional treat, especially if I get the timing on the vegetables right. However, simply too salty to serve to young children every week.
posted by yankeefog at 4:04 AM on February 24, 2014

Just back off the salt, then. If the meat otherwise came out perfectly, then your only problem is too much, that's all. You've found a technique that works, and that's the main thing: Roast chicken isn't really a recipe, it's about learning a good technique (I also vouch for spatchcocking the bird, but it's not necessary). So you learned from this run, so next time do exactly the same thing but back off the salt and put the veg in the whole time. You'll learn something from that bird too.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:17 PM on February 24, 2014

Response by poster: Roast chicken report week 2: Serious Eats butterflied chicken, as mentioned by rq. I put the vegetables in the roasting pan at the start of cooking.

Chicken score: 6. By the time the meat had cooked through to the recommended temperature, the skin was still soft and an unattractive color. I gave it a few more minutes to try to crisp the skin, which didn't help the skin much and made the meat a little dry. Very disappointing.

Vegetable score: 8. Better cooked than last time and very tasty.

Conclusion: My unscientific theory is that the vegetables (which weren't part of the original Serious Eats recipe) added moisture to the oven, which slowed the rate at which the skin would crisp. But because the chicken was raised up on a rack, air could circulate underneath, causing the meat to dry faster. Next time I try butterflying, I will try the technique recommended by slkinsey and nicwolff and just put the chicken directly on top of the veg, with no rack.
posted by yankeefog at 2:25 AM on March 3, 2014

Response by poster: Roast Chicken Report Week 3: The Jamie Oliver recipe that rq suggested. I modified it by adding chopped potatoes and parsnips as well as the vegetables the recipe suggests.

Chicken score: 7. The skin was nicely brown, if not quite as brown and crispy as I like it. The meat was juicy and had a subtle lemon flavor. The texture of the meat was slightly different than I was used to. Objectively, there was nothing wrong with it, but I think the texture was slightly more to my taste with the Thomas Keller recipe, which is why I give this one a highly subjective 7.

Vegetable score: 8. It wasn't quite done when the chicken was done, so I let it cook a few minutes while the chicken rested and it came out delicious.

Conclusion: Based on this and the Keller recipe, blocking up the cavity in some way (by trussing or by inserting a lemon) definitely helps keep the meat moist.
posted by yankeefog at 9:41 AM on March 9, 2014

Response by poster: Roast Chicken Report Week 4: I went back to the Thomas Keller method I used in Week 1, but instead of a tablespoon of salt, I only used a teaspoon. I put the chopped vegetables in the roasting tin at the beginning of the cooking process, and put the chicken directly on top of them with no rack.

Chicken Score: 9.1. Nicely browned skin, moist and flavorful meat. I felt like I was really tasting the chicken, not just the salt.

Vegetable Score: 7.9. I didn't salt the vegetables because I figured they'd get enough salt from the chicken juices. I think next time I do this, I will add just a little bit of salt to the vegatable.

Conclusion: This is the winner, so far. I'm going to keep trying other methods and reporting back, but the ease and excellent results of this one will make it hard to beat.

Update on previous week: I realized that the problem I had with butterflied chicken in Week 2 might be the fault of the oven setting I was using; I was using the "heat from the bottom" setting, whereas "heat from top and bottom" might have resulted in better browning of the skin. I'll revisit the recipe in a future week and see if the settings make it work better.
posted by yankeefog at 9:19 AM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Roast Chicken Report Week 5: I used the Zuni recipe recommended by jadepearl and bitdamaged. I surrounded it with chopped roast vegetables.

Chicken score: 5. Skin looked nicely browned but tasted smokey rather than savory. Meat was dry.

Vegetable score: 6. Cooked adequately but had very little flavor from the chicken (presumably because the high cooking temperature dried up any juices before they could soak in.)

Conclusion: Because the oven temperature is VERY high, there doesn't seem to be much room for error; I actually took the chicken out before the recipe told me to, and the breast meat temperature was already at 185F. (165F is my target.) If you can stand next to the oven checking the meat for doneness constantly, I could totally see this being amazing. But for me, with two young kids who require some attention while dinner is cooking, it's just not practical.
posted by yankeefog at 3:04 AM on March 26, 2014

..waiting on week 6...
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:50 PM on April 10, 2014

Response by poster: Sorry--I've been out of town! I am now back but am going to stick with the Thomas Keller method for tonight's roast. It works so well, and is so simple, that it is hard to be tempted by another more elaborate recipe.

But I still want to try the butterflied chicken method with proper oven settings. I will report back when I do.
posted by yankeefog at 4:17 AM on April 20, 2014

Response by poster: Roast Chicken Report Week 6: My children have informed me they don't like roast chicken.


Alas, this means I'm not going to be roasting chicken every Sunday night, which means an end to the Great Roast Chicken Experiment of 2014. I am marking this thread "Resolved" and declaring the Keller method (with reduced salt) the victor of the methods I've tried. If anybody wants to try other methods and report back, please do!

Thanks again, everybody. I really appreciated all the answers, and one day, I will get around to trying out all of the methods I haven't tried yet. Maybe when the kids go off to college...
posted by yankeefog at 3:26 AM on May 5, 2014

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