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Culinary Arts

Chef Thomas Keller’s Perfect Oven Roasted Chicken

Written by MasterClass

Nov 22, 2018 • 5 min read

“Roasted chicken reminds me of places I’ve been in the past. It is one of those preparations that crosses all geographic boundaries and all social boundaries and even economic boundaries. Everybody loves roasted chicken.” - Chef Thomas Keller, chef owner of Michelin-starred The French Laundry

Chef Keller is often asked what he would want as his last meal. His menu varies depending on his mood, but one dish is always on it: roast chicken. It’s a personal favorite, and a signature item at his restaurant Bouchon.

Chef Keller loves the contrasting flavors and textures from different parts of the chicken, from the pope’s nose at the tail to the wings and thighs and on to the “oysters” between the back and the leg. He’s not alone. Roast chicken was also one of Julia Child’s favorite dishes. When she visited The French Laundry, Chef Keller says, the staff always sent out a roast chicken for her.

Here you will find the methodology behind oven roasting along with Chef Thomas Keller’s recipe for a perfectly-roasted chicken.

Written by MasterClass

Nov 22, 2018 • 5 min read

Technique: Oven Roasting Overview

There is more to oven roasting a chicken than popping it into a preheated oven. Before you begin, review these crucial techniques.

1. Calibrate Your Oven

Like all cooking, oven roasting is all about time and temperature, so you also want to confirm that your oven is calibrated. To do so:

  • Put an oven thermometer in the oven
  • Turn the oven on
  • Check that the reading on your thermometer is the same as the reading on the thermometer
  • Get an infrared thermometer to measure your actual oven temperature so that you can achieve the correct temperature (even if the oven dial is incorrect)

If it’s not, you might need to get your oven serviced. At the very least, it’s worth having this information so you can adjust your cooking accordingly. The more experienced and skilled you become in the kitchen, the better equipped you’ll be to adjust your approach to get the desired results.

2. Temper Your Protein

Tempering food is a simple but critical step that involves bringing an ingredient to room temperature prior to cooking so that it cooks more evenly. Tempering is important with most proteins, but especially when oven roasting large cuts of meat, because it will allow the meat to cook evenly and more efficiently.

By tempering, you are ensuring that the meat will have an even temperature gradient from the middle to the edges. A properly tempered piece of meat should be room temperature throughout. In some cases, such as with large cuts of meat, you may need a thermometer to confirm that the inside has been properly tempered.

Recipe: Chef Thomas Keller’s Oven-Roasted Chicken

Ingredient Checklist

Chef Keller’s roast chicken recipe is a one-pot dish, but it involves multiple steps: brining, air-drying, trussing, and roasting. Brining is not required— but it will impart better flavor. Nor do you have to truss the bird, but doing so will help the chicken brown more beautifully and evenly. Prior to roasting, Chef Keller removes the wishbone, as it makes for easier carving. The root vegetables make a bed for the chicken, and the rendered fat and juices from the chicken flavor the vegetables. If you have a big cast-iron skillet, use that. This is a delicious family dinner. But don’t hesitate to roast a chicken just for yourself. You’ll have leftovers!

For the brine:

  • 5 lemons, halved
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 1/2 bunch (4 ounces) flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 bunch (1 ounce) thyme
  • 1/4 cup clover honey
  • 1 head garlic, halved through the equator
  • 1/8 cup black peppercorns
  • 1 cup (10 ounces) kosher salt
  • 1 gallon water

Equipment

  • Stockpot
  • Container

For the roasted chicken:

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 21⁄2 to 3 pounds
  • 3 rutabagas
  • 2 turnips
  • 2 parsnips
  • 2 large leeks
  • 4 carrots, trimmed and cut in half
  • 1 small onion
  • 8 small red-skinned potatoes
  • Clarified butter (or 1⁄3 cup canola oil)
  • 1 lemon

Equipment

  • Parchment-lined cutting board
  • Paring knife
  • Abrasive green scrub pad
  • Kitchen twine
  • Kitchen shears
  • Roasting
  • Pan
  • Meat thermometer
  • Chef’s knife

1) Brine and Prepare

Mix all of the brine ingredients and bring to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat and let cool, then pour into a container large enough to hold both the brine and the chicken and cool in the refrigerator until chilled.

Remove the neck and innards if they are still in the cavity of the chicken. Using a paring knife, cut out the wishbone from the chicken—this will make it easier to carve the chicken. Submerge the chicken in the cold brine for 8 to 12 hours.

When done brining, remove the chicken and truss to ensure even cooking. Discard the brine.

2) Truss the Chicken

Cut a piece of kitchen twine about 3 feet long and tuck the center of the string under the pope’s nose (the small bit of meat at the top of the tail end) and around and over the ends of the legs. Cross the twine and slide under each leg to create a figure 8. Pull across and back at the same time to plump the breast and bring the twine all the way around the breasts. As you press in the breast meat with your thumbs at the neck, cross each side of the string under the cut neck bone. Tie a slipknot then bring each string around a wing to hold each close to the body and tie off to finish.

Leave the brined, trussed chicken uncovered in the refrigerator for two days. Doing so removes moisture from the skin and allows it to crisp beautifully during roasting.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 1 1⁄2 to 2 hours, or until it comes to room temperature.

3) Prepare the Vegetables

Cut off both ends of the rutabagas. Stand the rutabagas on end and cut away 1⁄8-inch of the tough skin, working from top to bottom. Cut into 3⁄4-inch wedges. Repeat with the turnips, cutting the wedges to match the size of the rutabagas.

Cut off the dark green leaves from the top of the leeks. Trim off and discard any darkened outer layers. Trim the root ends, cutting around them on a 45-degree angle. Halve the leeks lengthwise and rinse the leeks well under warm water. Scrub the parsnips and carrots, trim, and halve lengthwise.

Cut the parsnips into wedges similar in size to the other vegetables to ensure even cooking. Cut the onion into wedges and leave the potatoes whole.

Combine all the vegetables in the roasting pan and season with salt. Drizzle clarified butter or canola oil over the vegetables and mix with your hands to coat.

4) Roast

Preheat the oven to 475°F.

Brush the chicken with clarified butter and season all sides with salt. Make a nest in the center of the vegetables and nestle the chicken in it. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes.

Reduce the heat to 400°F and roast for an additional 30 to 45 minutes, or until the temperature registers 160°F in the meatiest portions of the bird—the thighs, and under the breast where the thigh meets the breast—and the juices run clear where the leg joint meets the thigh. If necessary, return the bird to the oven for more roasting; check it every 5 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a carving board and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

Just before serving, set the pan of vegetables over medium heat and reheat the vegetables, turning them to coat with the pan juices.

Finish with a squeeze of lemon. Carve the chicken into serving pieces, arrange over the vegetables, finish with grey sea salt, and serve.

What Other Proteins Can You Roast Using Chef Keller’s Method?

Chef Keller’s method for brining and roasting chicken can be applied to other poultry and game birds, such as pigeons, guinea fowl, pheasants, and capons. You could brine your Thanksgiving turkey (more time) or a quail (less time).

The key is to preserve the ratio of salt to water in the brine; otherwise you’ll end up with a result that is either too salty or bland.

Thomas Keller

Teaches Cooking Techniques I: Vegetables, Pasta, And Eggs: Fundamental techniques. Fantastic food.

Chef Thomas Keller is the only American chef to hold multiple Michelin three-star ratings. In his MasterClass, the chef behind The French Laundry teaches you the foundations of his kitchen, from cookware to essential ingredients. Learn techniques like blanching, glazing, confit, and more. Gain the skills—and confidence—that will help you execute vegetables, eggs, and pastas to perfection.

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