a home cook with notions & an appetite
How could I do the great roast chicken experiment without testing out the method recommended by America’s Test Kitchen? I know that ATK and their companion magazines, Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country are often accused of taking the “fun” out of cooking with their obsessiveness and pronouncement of having found a perfect method for nearly everything, but I, for one, appreciate that they get down to methodologies and how to avoid major pitfalls inherent in certain recipes. I don’t consider it at all “fun” to carefully select ingredients, put time into a dish and then discover that it’s either dry, burnt, mushy, rubbery, cooked unevenly or texturally challenged because the core method behind the dish was suspect from the start. For me, the fun is in the flavor profiles and seasoning adjustments and in serving something that’s fundamentally cooked well.
Now, where ATK excels in method, they don’t always excel in big flavors. They’re really more about flavors that are very nice, but are not likely to offend. But that’s okay. Spices are always adjustable as far as I’m concerned. Of course, my experiment for the chickens involves doing the chickens as presented, so ogle this beautiful chicken. I will say upfront is the most evenly and lovely browned chicken we’ve produced thus far (my photography is very amateur) – even though it was chicken #7 and I’m well into the teens in terms of test chickens now.
And, please, don’t get me wrong, I regularly DVR America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country and I own several of their cookbooks. And I’ve had several of my tool and product purchases validated by their test kitchen staff as well. In the end, I consider them to be my rock-solid foundation. I think it was in a letter they received one day about taking the fun out of cooking that Chris Kimball pointed out that Jerry Garcia practiced scales every single day. I thought that was a very apt comparison to what ATK does vs. the perceived “art” of cooking. While what Jerry Garcia produced musically wasn’t album after album of simple scales, he couldn’t have achieved the art of it without having that solid foundation of the not-so-fun practice wrapped up in a one-way to do something that is scales.
That being said, let’s get to the ATK Perfect Roast Chicken. The ingredients I used:
Yes, that’s really it. If you can’t already tell from the ingredients, this will start with a brine. However, this is no overnight brine. This is a brine that will only take an hour, so you’ll either need an afternoon where you come home from work early or a weekend to do this bird. After mixing the salt and sugar in 2 quarts of cold water until dissolved in my brine bucket (you don’t have one of those?), I refrigerated the bird for an hour. Once my hour was up, I rinsed the bird and patted it dry with paper towels:
On a side note, my paper towel usage has gone way up since beginning this project. For as absorbent as all of the paper towels promise to be, drying out a chicken inside and out is very different from wiping up a simple coffee spill on the counter. I’m just sayin’.
In exciting news of things not being photographed, the oven is being preheated to 400 degrees and my roasting rack has been sprayed with Pam. Now, it’s time for the butter. We’ve done flavored butters under the skin before, but in this one, we simply spread the butter under the skin and all over the breast of the bird. Now, the bird has been brined, so it is already salted. Adding more salt to the butter would have turned this poor bird into a salt lick.
Once I’d buttered under the breast, I massaged the skin from the outside to make sure the butter was as evenly spread under the skin as it could be…there’s plenty of “art” to be had in this step if you like. After spreading the butter, I rubbed the skin all over with the olive oil and attempted to tuck the wings under the bird. I say “attempted” because, well, you’ll see in a few seconds. The bird was also thoroughly peppered. Again, bird was brined, so adding salt at this point would have not been a very nice thing to do unless I was really in the mood for a salt lick.
Now for the roasting method. The bird actually starts out on its side. Doesn’t matter which one, just as long as it was wing-side up. And this is where the wing tuck started to fall apart for me. Not a big deal. After 15 minutes, I flipped the bird over to its other side. ATK recommends a lot of paper towels (this is a roasted chicken conspiracy, I tell you!), but I have Ov-Gloves that can be washed every single week, so that’s what I use to flip a whole bird. 15 minutes later, the bird ends up in the traditional roasting position, which is breast-side up. Doing the math, I’ve already roasted for 30 minutes, so now I just need to wait for the bird to hit 165 degrees in the breast which took about 30 minutes:
The bird does the usual rest for 10 minutes (don’t they all?). The skin is lovely and crisp. The bird isn’t the moistest that I’ve had, but it’s not overly dry. It’s chicken-y. And a bit boring. But completely serviceable.
I really wish I would have cooked this one before the tea-brined because it would have been a bit more of a rave than just a, “hey, aren’t you lovely?” kind of bird. The turns have definitely worked in other birds, as have brines, it’s just that with more flavor, they get even better. As I’ve said, ATK is all about solid foundations. You really can’t ever go wrong with solid foundations.