Roasting a whole chicken is such an easy way to feed a lot of people. And there’s something celebratory about plonking down a juicy, golden-brown bird at the dinner table.
I don’t claim to be an expert at roasting chicken, but I do have some tips up my sleeve that get me consistently great results. (Follow at your own risk!)
Tip #1: Brine your bird
Let’s get one thing straight: a brine is not a marinade. A brine is a salty, sweet solution that you immerse raw meats in.
What brining does is nothing short of magical — without getting into all the details of osmotic movement, suffice to say that the soaking actually helps the meat to retain moisture during cooking. A brined chicken always comes out of the oven perfectly moist!
A basic brine ratio that I always use is: 1 litre of brine = 1 litre of cold water + 1/4 cup salt + 1/4 cup sugar + 1/4 cup light soya sauce
One litre of brine should be enough to immerse a small roast chicken, if you put it in a large ziplock bag and remove most of the air. Otherwise, just double the amount to ensure a thorough soaking.
If you’re feeling fancy, you can add other flavourings. My favourites are a handful of spices like black peppercorns or allspice berries, fresh herbs like thyme or bay leaves, and citrus fruits.
Leave the bird to soak in the brine for at least 6 hours in the refrigerator or in a cool place, overnight at best.
Tip #2: Dry the skin thoroughly before roasting for crispy skin
After brining, wash the brine off the bird thoroughly and allow to air-dry for at least an hour. When preparing the bird for the oven, pat the skin dry with paper towels to remove excess moisture.
Then, rub generously with a vegetable oil or light olive oil. Take some time to massage the oil into the skin.
Finally, season the outside and cavity with salt and pepper and any other flavourings you want (e.g., garlic powder, chilli, etc.). Be generous with the seasoning.
If you want to cheat that picture-perfect golden brown skin, pick seasonings that are already yellow or red, such as tumeric or paprika.
Tip #3: Truss the bird
This might seem like a hugely unnecessary step, but tying up the bird helps it to cook evenly throughout. You just need some twine to tie the legs together.
This holds the thigh meat close to the body and creates a more uniform shape to the whole chicken. And this means more even roasting.
Tip #4: Get a meat thermometor
While it’s fine to trust the “cooking-time-by-weight” formula, I found that my roasts improved drastically when I invested in a meat thermometer.
And not just any meat thermometer, but one with a probe that stays in throughout the roasting with a temperature reading outside the oven. (Like this one.) This takes all the guesswork out of roasting chicken.
I preheat my oven to 175°C (350°F), stick the probe end into the thickest part of the meat, usually on the inside of the thigh meat, then slide the bird into the oven and close the door. I attach the probe’s wire to the reader and set the temperature alarm to go off at 75°C (167°F).
After that I just walk away and forget all about the bird until the alarm sounds. Easy-peasy.
And those are my tips for getting a great roast bird. There’s nothing mystical or scary about cooking a whole bird in the slightest. And even if after following my tips, things still go wrong, there are always easy fixes: for an overcooked, dried-out bird, tear apart and meat and stick it in a stew or soup; if you undercook it, simply toss it back in the oven or give it a quick blast in the microwave if you’re in a hurry.
And yes, these tips work on turkey as well! Look forward to a succulent Thanksgiving or Christmas roast.