I've said it before and I'll say it again: Roast chicken is simple and satisfying. Growing up, I never really dug chicken (feel free to chime in on this, mom), but then again I was not much of a meat eater to begin with. Now, a nice roast chicken is high on my list of foods I actively crave on a regular basis.
When I was in France on an exchange program in high school, I was impressed and surprised to learn that the French do not eat fancy food bathed in rich, creamy sauces on a daily basis. Rather, simple roast chicken is typical fare of the French household: economical, flavorful, easy and wholesome. It's not uncommon for it to be a weekly meal.
We roast a lot of chicken ourselves, maybe not quite weekly, but sometimes close. Typically, though, we roast it as-is, trimmed and resting on a bed of cubed root veggies. But time was that DPaul would butterfly the chicken and roast it in a hotter than normal oven; after seeing exactly this on America's Test Kitchen, we knew we had to go back to try that method again.
Their method varied from DPaul's in minor ways. They sliced the potatoes and rested them in the bottom of a roasting pan, creating something more akin to a gratin. I think this is a fantastic use of chicken drippings. Also, whereas they roast in a hot oven, DPaul used to broil on both sides. Having had it both ways, I can say this method is a winner. The white meat was juicy, the dark meat sufficiently done, and the potatoes were tender and tasty. The only thing I could see doing differently would be to slice in some parsnips, carrot or onion in with the potatoes for a little diversity, but that's really splitting hairs.
But one roast chicken, even a Rosie, is more than two people can comfortably eat. So when we learned that the lovely Anita was left to her own devices whilst her husband supped on Batali chow (Batali ciao?), a spontaneous wee dinner party was obviously in order. That she graciously offered to bring homemade bleu cheese dressing was thoughtful; that she also happened to have a lovely head of romaine and some homegrown tomatoes to put it on was fortuitous, cuz we didn't.
(Photo: DPaul Brown)
High-roast chicken with potatoes
1 fryer, approx. 3.5-4 lbs
3 russet potatoes
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp garlic salt
fresh herbs, chopped
Double-line the bottom of a broiler pan with heavy-duty foil. Pre-heat oven to 475ºF. Adjust rack to lower-middle position.
Soften butter and mix with garlic salt, fresh herbs and a crack of pepper to make a compound butter. Set aside.
Trim excess fat from the bird and discard. With kitchen shears or a good heavy knife, cut out the backbone. Turn the chicken over and apply pressure to the sternum, cracking the rib cage and flattening out the bird. Rinse and dry thoroughly. Stuff the compound butter under the skin along the breasts and thighs, then season the whole bird with salt and pepper on both sides.
Peel potatoes, and with a mandoline or by hand cut into 1/8-1/4" slices. Toss in a large bowl with a slosh of olive oil, salt and pepper, then lay out in an even layer on the bottom of the broiler pan. Put on the top of the broiler pan, and lay the chicken on top, skin side up. Put in the oven and bake for about 40 minutes, rotating halfway, until the skin is crispy and brown and the meat in the thickest part of the leg reaches 170º. Move the chicken and the top of the pan to a cutting board to rest, covered. Put the potatoes back in for a few more minutes to cook through and crisp up on top. Remove and cool for a few minutes. Serve hot.