A couple weeks ago my friend Hugh blogged about Mary’s Free-Range California Bronze Heritage Chickens on GastroKid. They are, as Hugh says, “the best danged whole chicken you can buy in a supermarket.” They’re available at Whole Foods, and the fantastic news is that they’ve lowered their prices yet again to $2.69/lb! (Not so long ago, they fetched double the price and were worth it then.)
For the past few years I’ve been roasting chickens à la Zuni Café, which involves salting the hell out of them and letting them sit under plastic wrap in the fridge for 24-48 hours before roasting at high heat. It’s a great go-to method, and produces deliciously crispy skin.
But last night I discovered an even better method. I have to attribute the ridiculous success of this chicken as much to the simplicity of technique from—who else?—Thomas Keller, as to the bird itself. Keller has famously said that his last meal would be a roast chicken, and his Bouchon cookbook features a somewhat involved version that requires a six-hour brine, but epicurious.com has Keller’s abbreviated method that requires nothing but a lot of salt, a little pepper and a bit of fresh thyme and twine.
Crank up the oven to 450 degrees. Rinse the bird and thoroughly pat dry inside and out. Salt and pepper the inside, and then truss the bird with kitchen twine. Then sprinkle a generous amount of salt over the bird and a few twists of pepper. No butter. No herbs. Just salt and pepper.
Roast the chicken without basting for 50-60 minutes, until the oven gets kinda smoky and the skin is golden brown and crispy. Remove from oven (careful of spattering hot fat) and add chopped fresh thyme to the pan, then baste with all those lovely fatty, thyme-scented juices. Let rest on a cutting board for 15 minutes, and then slather with a pat of good butter and serve with a healthy dollop of spicy dijon mustard. The flavor of this bird was mind-blowing—my husband swore, and then asked if we could roast a chicken every week (note: we do). But I know what he means. It was like tasting something new and intoxicating for the very first time. It was that good.