A roast to toast


Rosh Hashana marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, a time when Jews look back over the past year and think of ways to improve on the upcoming year. In the spirit of that resolve, it seems a fitting time to improve upon the art of roasting a chicken, the centerpiece of a delicious holiday meal.

You may be surprised to find out that there is little consensus among cooking gurus on the subject of roasting chicken. Some prefer high heat for a short time while others espouse low heat for a longer time; some insist on using a cooking rack while others use no cooking rack; some swear by brining while others think that brining is superfluous; some truss while others don’t.


What’s more, they all have their own theories. Let’s begin with the cooking wisdom of Alice Waters, owner of the famed Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, Calif. and the creator of The Edible Schoolyard Program. Waters recommends brining organic chickens one to two days before cooking with a mixture of 1 teaspoons salt and a scant teaspoon of fresh-ground black pepper. Just before roasting, she suggests placing herb sprigs and sliced garlic under the skin of the breast and thighs to enhance flavor.

I asked three local chefs for their views on the subject of the perfect roast chicken. Not surprisingly, each of them had good but different advice.

Brian Hale has been Executive Chef at The Chase Park Plaza for one year. Previously, he was part owner and executive chef at Monarch restaurant. Roast chicken is a specialty on the menu at Eau Bistro, a restaurant at the Chase.

“The best tasting chicken starts with the best chicken,” said Hale. “Quality in is quality out,” he stressed.

Hale prepares his chicken by first cutting a 4-6 pound chicken in half and rubbing the skin with olive oil, butter or margarine, and then seasoning it. Next, he par-bakes it in the oven at low heat, 275-300 degrees, for about 25 minutes. At that point, the chicken is about 75 percent cooked (the time will vary according to the size of the chicken.) The partially cooked chicken can be kept refrigerated for a few hours or up to a couple of days.

“It is always better to let any protein rest so that the chicken or meat can retain most of the juices,” explained Hale. Just before he’s ready to serve the chicken, Hale cooks it in a preheated oven at 475-500 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165-170 degrees on a meat thermometer. “The outside of the chicken becomes nice and crispy, and the inside is perfectly cooked,” he said.

Patrick Thirion has been the executive chef of Steven Becker Fine Dining for the past six years. The company does all of the catering, both kosher and non-kosher, for the Coronado Ball Room and for the two Nadoz restaurants (one at the Coronado and the other at The Boulevard in Clayton). It also does off-premise catering for large events and for private parties.

“Kosher chickens are the best for roasting,” Thirion explained. “Part of the kashering process involves brining the chicken in a salt solution, which not only removes any remaining blood and bacteria but also enhances flavor and keeps the moisture in the chicken while it cooks.”

For a 4-6 pound chicken, Thirion makes a paste from 2/3 cup Dijon mustard, 1/3 cup light brown sugar, and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh peeled garlic. He reserves one- half cup of the paste and massages the rest of it carefully underneath the skin of the breast. He places whole fresh sage leaves on top of the paste and sprinkles the outside of the chicken and the cavity with salt and white pepper.

Thirion then positions a long piece of kitchen twine under the breast end of the chicken, brings the twine up over the breast to pull together the wings, and then crisscrosses the twine back down under the chicken, where he ties together the bottoms of the drumsticks.

“This method keeps the wings close and prevents them from burning,” Thirion says. “It also helps the chicken cook more evenly.” After roasting the chicken in a preheated 400- degree oven for about 20 minutes, Thirion reduces the oven temperature to 200 degrees and continues to roast the chicken until it is finished, approximately 1 hours more.

For the final half hour of roasting, he thins out the reserved paste with some of the pan drippings and white wine and uses the mixture to baste the chicken 2 or 3 times.

“Roasted chicken is my most favorite thing to prepare,” Nick McCormick said, “and brining makes all the difference.”

McCormick is the Chef de Cuisine at An American Place in downtown St. Louis. He brines a free-range chicken in a solution of one-gallon water, 1-cup coarse kosher salt, and cup sugar for at least 12 hours in the refrigerator. For additional flavor, he also adds to the brine an assortment of other spices, such as chopped fresh garlic, thyme, bay leaves, rosemary, and black peppercorns.

Before roasting, he pulls the chicken out of the brine and pats it dry with paper towels. He rubs the chicken with olive oil and sprinkles it evenly with Old Bay seasoning, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, and salt and pepper. Then he trusses the chicken, from top to bottom, “so that when you hold the chicken up in one hand, nothing is loose,” he explained. “This insures nice even cooking.”

McCormick roasts his chicken in a 350- degree oven and removes it when the meat thermometer registers 162 degrees. “I know that the USDA recommends that cooked chicken be at 180 degrees,” he said. “But after the chicken comes out of the oven, it continues to cook for a few minutes. The internal temperature will eventually reach near 170 degrees, giving you dark meat that is fully cooked and breast meat that is very moist.”

Of course, we each have our own kitchen wisdom when it comes to roasting chicken. So, how shall we proceed? We can borrow tips from the experts above. We can look to the techniques and traditions of our mothers and grandmothers. And we can also seek wisdom from the extraordinary grande dame who bought her chickens from the same place that I did back in the late 1970s, Savenor’s Market in Cambridge, Mass.

In homage to the late Julia Child, teacher extraordinaire and my one-time neighbor, I’ve adapted her recipe for roast chicken from her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Child recommends serving this chicken with a light red wine, such as rose. It would also go well with a French white burgundy or an American chardonnay.

To round out your Rosh Hashana meal, consider serving a combination of cut up sweet and Yukon gold potatoes (only peel the sweet potatoes) tossed lightly with olive oil, minced garlic, chopped fresh rosemary, and salt and pepper. Roast the potatoes in an uncovered pan in a 425-degree oven for 30-40 minutes.

For a vegetable, roast whole cleaned baby carrots tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh thyme, and drizzled lightly with honey. You can roast them in the same oven as the potatoes at 425 degrees until the carrots are just fork tender, 20-25 minutes. Garnish with steamed broccoli florets.

L’Shana Tovah Tikatevu.

Roast Chicken à la Julia

1- 3 pound chicken,

whole teaspoon salt

divided 3 tablespoons unsalted margarine, at room temperature

divided 3 tablespoons olive oil

1 carrot, scraped, rinsed, patted dry, and sliced

1 medium onion, peeled and cut into eighths

tablespoon minced shallot

1 cup chicken stock

Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Sprinkle chicken cavity with – teaspoon salt and smear inside with 1 tablespoon margarine.

Truss chicken by tying legs together with kitchen string so that they are pressed tightly against the body of the chicken. Tie another piece of string around top third of chicken to hold wings against body.

Smear 1- tablespoon margarine over outside of chicken.

Set chicken into a roasting pan, breast side up, and surround with carrots and onion pieces. Place pan on center oven rack and roast for 15 minutes, turning chicken onto the left side after 5 minutes and onto the right side for 5 minutes. Leave chicken on its side. Baste chicken after each turn with olive oil.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue basting chicken every 8-10 minutes with remaining olive oil and pan drippings. After 30 minutes sprinkle side of chicken with – teaspoon salt and turn over to other side. After 15 minutes, salt side of chicken and turn it, breast side up. Continue basting.

Roast chicken for an additional 10-20 minutes, or until skin is golden brown, legs move easily in their sockets, and juices run clear yellow when thigh is poked with a fork.

Transfer chicken to a platter and remove trussing string. Tent foil paper over chicken and let rest 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare sauce. Skim off all but 2 tablespoons for fat from drippings in pan. Place pan with drippings over stove burner(s) and turn heat to medium. Add shallots and cook for 1 minute. Add chicken stock, turn heat to high, and boil mixture until it reduces to about cup. Season sauce with salt and pepper, to taste.

Remove pan from stove, discard carrots and onions, and swirl in small bits of the remaining tablespoon of margarine, until fully incorporated. Cut chicken into serving pieces. Pour a spoonful of sauce over chicken and pour remaining sauce into a small bowl to pass around the table.

Makes 4 servings.

Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of two. A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is currently working on a project to preserve the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at [email protected]