The Basics: Roast Chicken 101

The Basics: Roast Chicken 101

A reader wrote in with a question for our Dining expert Deborah Goldstein.

Dear Deborah,
I could use help with a dish that is supposed to be easy: roast chicken. The other day I started a 3.5-pound trussed chicken (straight from the grocery store) at 375 F and lowered to 350 F, turning it three times a la Julia Child.

But after an hour and a half it was still a bloody mess, with an internal temperature of 150 F. (180 F is chicken doneness, right?)

What's more, the little potatoes I had cut into eighths and surrounded it with (I figured they'd make up the extra half-pound) weren't done either.

Have chickens changed? Do they just take two hours now? Also, should I parboil the potatoes? Or should I be roasting the chicken at a higher heat—maybe 400 F?

—Ruffled Roaster

Hello Ruffled Roaster,
It’s frustrating to cook a chicken and not have it “look like the picture,” but it’s also potentially a waste of money. You make an investment each time you buy a chicken, so here’s how to protect it:

In Fact, Chickens Have Changed.

Technically, chickens have changed. Chickens have been genetically modified, resulting in bigger-breasted birds to satisfy the American consumer. For more details about how these animals are fattened up, read or watch Food, Inc. It’s an eye-opener.

So Here’s How To Deal With It.

When roasting a chicken, decide if you want to go “low and slow” or “high and fast.” I start my bird out at a very high temperature—475 F—and then bring it down for half of the roasting time. To start the bird at 375 F and bring it down to 350 F adds a good half-hour to my quick trick and produces a juicy, tender bird in a little under an hour. Roast the chicken to an internal temperature of 160 F, then let the bird rest for about 10 minutes. “Carry-over cooking” causes the temperature to continue to rise. Keep in mind: a stuffed bird adds about 20 minutes to cooking time. After roasting an adorned chicken, take the stuffing out immediately or you may fall victim to rapid bacteria growth in the cavity.

Spelling Out Assumptions In Some Recipes.

Recipes can be frustrating because there are so many factors implied in the text. First, take the bird out of the fridge to let it “warm up” before putting it into the oven. An ice-cold bird will take longer to come to temperature than one that’s been sitting out for a half-hour. Second, choose a roasting pan that is proportional to the chicken—let’s call it a “snug” fit. This helps to surround the bird with radiant heat over a greater proportion of its body. And, third, resist the peek! Each time you open the oven, you’re losing 25 F to 50 F, bringing the oven temperature down. I can’t even do the math to compensate for such a loss of heat.

P.S. The Potatoes.

When cooking root vegetables in the same pan as the chicken, tossing them with a bit of olive oil will carry things along. For best results, put them into another small pan, add a bit of liquid, and cover for the first part of cooking to create a steaming effect. To finish the vegetables, foil off until soft on the inside and a little crispy on the outside.



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