Roast Chicken

Brine-Roasted Chicken

Brining a chicken and other meats has many advantages, fantastic flavor and juicy results being the most important.  See below for the scientific stuff. Essentially, because some of the brine is absorbed into the meat, the flavors of the brine go with it and create a tender meal with flavor in every bite.  Chicken with the bone in, including a whole chicken or pieces can be started up to twenty-four hours ahead. Boneless cuts and smaller cuts of pork, like chops, are best brined for eight hours or less.  I like to buy  Mary’s Chicken  with the head and feet attached. I cut them off (you can have the butcher do this) as well as remove the spine creating a “spatchcock” chicken like the one in the picture.  I roast these parts with the rest of the bird and when they are cooked and cooled, I freeze them with my collection of bones for stock. They add a caramel flavor and color to the stock. Delicious!  All that needs to be done for dinner is putting the chicken in the oven on a bed of vegetables and perhaps cooking a starch of some sort. It’s that simple!

Brining a chicken and other meats has many advantages, fantastic flavor and juicy results being the most important.

See below for the scientific stuff. Essentially, because some of the brine is absorbed into the meat, the flavors of the brine go with it and create a tender meal with flavor in every bite.

Chicken with the bone in, including a whole chicken or pieces can be started up to twenty-four hours ahead. Boneless cuts and smaller cuts of pork, like chops, are best brined for eight hours or less.

I like to buy Mary’s Chicken with the head and feet attached. I cut them off (you can have the butcher do this) as well as remove the spine creating a “spatchcock” chicken like the one in the picture.

I roast these parts with the rest of the bird and when they are cooked and cooled, I freeze them with my collection of bones for stock. They add a caramel flavor and color to the stock. Delicious!

All that needs to be done for dinner is putting the chicken in the oven on a bed of vegetables and perhaps cooking a starch of some sort. It’s that simple!

Start one day ahead. Serves 4 to 6

The Brine:

  • 7 cups of water

  • 1 cup dry white wine (optional)

  • 6 Tbls sea salt or kosher salt

  • 3 Tbls organic sugar

  • 3 Tbls of your favorite spice blend that does not contain salt or yellow curry powder

The Chicken:

  • 3-pound chicken, cut into two halves

  • Assorted root vegetables

  • 1 Tbls extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 Tbls of the above spice mixture

  • 1 cup chicken stock or white wine

  • 1 Tbls. balsamic vinegar (optional)

Brining the chicken:

  1. The day before you plan to cook, combine all the brine ingredients with two tablespoons of the spice mixture reserving the rest for the next day.

  2. In a small pot over medium heat and with 1 cup of water, stir until the salt and sugar have dissolved.

  3. Add this mixture to the remaining brine in a large glass or stainless bowl or pot and cool completely. Put the chicken in the pot and top with a plate, if necessary, to keep the chicken submerged. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Cooking the chicken:

  1. Heat the oven to 450ºF and remove the chicken from the refrigerator. Drain the brine.

  2. Peel onions if using, keeping as much of the root end intact as possible. Cut into 1-inch wedges, cutting through the root end so the layers stay connected.

  3. Cut other root vegetables into medium chunks and place in a rimmed roasting pan or sheet pan.

  4. Pat the bird dry with paper towels and place it skin up, on the vegetables. Lightly rub with olive oil and sprinkle with the reserved spice mix mixed with one-half teaspoon of salt.

  5. Roast, stirring the vegetables occasionally until the chicken reaches 165˚F at the deepest part of the chicken’s thigh, about 40 minutes.

  6. Remove the bird and vegetables to a cutting board or platter.

  7. Deglaze the pan while scraping the bits and simmer until reduced by one third. Drizzle the sauce over the bird.

The science behind brining:

  • Meat absorbs some of the liquid: When a piece of meat is soaked in a brine solution, that solution is slowly drawn into the meat, and even though some of it is inevitably lost during cooking, it still makes a big difference. Since the meat starts out with more liquid within, it ends up juicier and more moist when cooked.

  • Muscle fibers are dissolved: Highly concentrated salt solutions will cause proteins to precipitate (essentially forcing them to aggregate with each other and clump together). On the other hand, a low-concentration salt solution has the opposite effect and actually can increase protein solubility and allow more proteins to dissolve. So brine actually helps dissolve some of the muscle fibers, which helps to reduce the toughness of meat.

  • Muscle fibers and meat proteins denature: A salt solution can denature proteins, essentially unfolding and unravelling them. As they unfold, water works its way in between these proteins so there is more water in between the meat proteins as the meat cooks. This results in a more tender cooked meat.

Perfect Roast Chicken with Salsa Verde

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A perfectly roasted chicken makes a delicious meal and if you're lucky, leftovers plus bones for broth. There's no reason we home cooks shouldn't achieve perfection which is why I've adapted my roasted chicken from one of the best restaurants in America, Thomas Keller's ad hoc.

The chicken

  • One 4- to 4 1/2- pound chicken, more or less (Serves 4-6)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Fresh thyme or rosemary sprigs, lemon or orange halves, garlic cloves, etc.
  • 4 large carrots, left whole
  • 4 celery stalks, left whole
  • 1 small yellow onion, trimmed, leaving root end intact, and cut into quarters
  • Kitchen twine
  • 1 Tbls. olive oil
  • 1 to 2 cups white wine, chicken or vegetable broth or water

Salsa Verde (below and optional)

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let it stand at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until it comes to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 475° F. 

Using a paring knife, cut out the wishbone from the chicken. This can be found by running your finger along the neck cavity. This step is not necessary but will make it easier to carve the chicken. Generously season the cavity of the chicken with salt and pepper. Fill the cavity with the herbs, citrus halves, garlic cloves, etc., and massage the inside of the bird to infuse it with the flavors and plump the bird. Tie the legs together at the ankles with the twine.

Place the whole vegetables in the center of a roasting pan to act as a shelf that will lift the chicken up off the pan. This will help it to evenly brown and crisp. Place the chicken on the “vegetable shelf” and rub the skin with the olive oil. Season it generously with salt. Add 1 cup of water, wine or broth to the roasting pan. Put the chicken in the oven and roast for 25 minutes or until the skin is beautifully browned.

Reduce the heat to 450°F and roast until done.

Chicken is done at 165˚ - 170˚ Roast the chicken for a total of 45 minutes plus 7 minutes per pound [e.g. a 4-pound chicken = 45 + 7 minutes X 4 lbs. = 73 minutes]

The temperature should register 165°F in the meatiest portions of the bird which are the thighs and under the breast where the thighs and breast meet. Check to make sure the juices run clear and are not pink. If necessary, return the bird to the oven and check every 5 minutes or so. Remove the chicken onto a platter or cutting board and tent loosely with foil. Let the chicken rest for 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, squeeze the vegetables in the pan to remove the juices, then toss. Warm the remaining juices over medium heat. Add the second cup of white wine, chicken or vegetable broth. Bring the mixture to a simmer and scrape all the bits from the pan. Serve with the chicken alone with the juices and lemon wedges or try the salsa verde below.

Adapted from ad hoc at home, Thomas Keller

Salsa Verde The herbs in this sauce add a lovely fresh taste to the bird along with umami from the anchovies.

  • 1/4 cup capers, rinsed
  • 4 anchovy fillets in oil, drained (optional)
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped arugula
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped basil
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped tarragon
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped chives
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped sage

Note: use the herbs you have and leave out what you don’t. 

Using a mortar and pestle or food processor, blend or mash the capers with the anchovies and garlic until a paste forms. Transfer to a bowl and whisk in the remaining 1 cup of olive oil. Stir in the herbs and season with salt to taste. The salsa verde can be refrigerated overnight and is best served at room temperature.