September 09, 2011
The current issue of Cook's Illustrated (September/October 2011) features a recipe for Weeknight Roast Chicken. The recipe represents a departure from CI's default method of roasting a chicken, which involves brining the chicken, then roasting it on a V-rack in a roasting pan and flipping it over a couple times while it cooks to promote even browning. The new recipe isn't meant to replace that one, which the CI folk still stand by, but to provide a faster alternative, one that will let you make a really good roast chicken on a weeknight, without the prep time required for the default recipe. I thought that sounded pretty good, so I recently tried it out. Juli and I were both quite pleased by the results.
This recipe involves placing an oven-safe skillet, preheating the oven and skillet to 450 degrees, prepping the chicken by patting it dry then rubbing it down with olive oil and sprinkling it with ample amounts of kosher salt and black pepper, then placing the chicken in the preheated skillet and letting it cook for around a half-hour, then turning off the oven and letting the chicken finish coking through the heat already inside the chicken being conducted into the interior. The result would theoretically be nicely roasted chicken that was really moist (long cooking tends to dry out a chicken through surface evaporation) with no chance of the chicken being dried out.
I followed the recommended technique, save that I used my Lodge Color Enamel 3-Quart Dutch Oven, sans lid, in place of a skillet. I knew that the enameled cast iron would heat up evenly and well and conduct heat a lot more easily than a skillet, while also being pretty easy to clean afterward.
My results were quite good. The recipe delivered what it promised: a quick-roasted, delicious, moist roast chicken with a nicely-bronzed skin. The whole process of roasting the chicken took, start to finish, about 90 minutes, including prepping the chicken (which I did while the oven and pan preheated). The skin was beautifully bronzed, and while I let the chicken rest, I made a delicious tarragon-lemon pan sauce, using a recipe that accompanied the article about roasting the chicken. When I sliced the chicken, I found it delightfully juicy, and topped with the sauce, it was simply delicious. We both loved it.
The only downside to this technique is that while the bird cooked in the extremely-hot oven, a fair bit of grease spattered out of the pan and into the oven. This necessitated an oven cleaning, and while our oven was somewhat overdue for a cleaning anyhow, I don't want to have to clean the oven every time I roast a chicken. That problem isn't going to keep me from using this technique again, because the chicken did turn out wonderfully, but I'll be happier if I can come up with a way to get the same results without the grease spatter.