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Photo: Tara Morris

Leigh Belanger’s Classic Roast Chicken

February 16, 2019
by Jean Hamilton

Serves 4 to 6

This is an utterly simple approach to roasting chicken, borrowed from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook. To stretch the meal, I serve smaller portions of meat alongside a few different vegetable preparations.

1 3.5-pound whole chicken

1 tablespoon kosher salt

5 to 6 sprigs mixed fresh herbs (parsley, rosemary, thyme, for example)

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  1. The night before cooking, unwrap the bird and dry it thoroughly with paper towels. Salt it all over (about a scant teaspoon per pound of chicken) and set the chicken in the refrigerator, uncovered, to rest overnight. This helps the skin dry out, which will make it crispier in the end.
  2. Heat the oven to 475°F. About 30 minutes before cooking, take the bird out of the fridge and place a large cast iron skillet in the oven. Tie the herbs in a bundle with twine and place inside the bird’s cavity. Tie the legs together, if you want (it makes a neater package, but I never bother). Take the hot skillet out of the oven and put the chicken in the pan, breast side up.
  3. After the chicken has been in the oven for about 25 minutes, flip the bird, baste the chicken with the drippings, and return to the oven. Keep an eye on the temperature; I often have to turn the oven down to 450°F if the fat starts to smoke. Roast for another 15 to 20 minutes, then flip again to crisp the breast skin for 5 to 10 more minutes.
  4. Take the chicken’s temperature – if it hasn’t hit 160°F yet, return to the oven for another 10 minutes or so. When the skin is bronzed and the internal temperature is 160°F at the thigh, remove chicken from oven and let it rest, loosely covered with foil, for 10 to 15 minutes before carving and serving.

Reserve the chicken carcass and any remaining meat for making the stock that forms the base of the Tortilla Soup. Use up leftover chicken meat in the soup as well.