The Best Roast Chicken

Winter is the cue for every foodie to go a little crazy over that golden ingredient: the fresh truffle.

Night Owl and I have a friend, and last spring we had caught up over a bottle of wine or two one quiet weekend at a local and discovered our mutual love of the rather ugly dark nugget. For her, it’s a near obsession and she will visit whichever restaurant and cafe that offers a special truffle dish. I can’t say I have that level of devotion, but I do deeply appreciate the mushroom and love its ability to elevate simple dishes like a grilled cheese toastie, a creamy pasta, or scrambled eggs with Parmesan. I did promise her then that when winter next came by, we would have her over for dinner and I would feature the heinously expensive fungus.

Keeping in mind my ten week total transformation challenge, we still managed to keep our carb intake under control – it was just a small cheat meal 😉

I wanted to make a roast chicken with delicate slices of truffle under the skin, and for me this was ambitious as I’ve not roasted many chickens in my life. Surprised? Well, roast chicken is so accessible these days – unlike when I was a kid and teen and the line for the local chicken shop went down the street on a Sunday afternoon. Chicken is one of those things I knew could be difficult to technically perfect; crispy skin but dry flesh? Tender breast but raw thigh meat? I did a bit of research into various methods, and decided to start with a dry brine (which decreases the loss of moisture while cooking by 30-40 per cent), and butterfly the bird. My brother-in-law swears by his chicken stand, which essentially is inserted through the bottom cavity and the chicken “stands up”, but if you’re not adding stuffing – why not just butterfly the bird? Granted, it will take away from the grand moment of bringing the whole bird to the table, but a perfectly cooked chook will redeem the meal.

I had reviewed my favourite food blog website, Serious Eats, where J. Kenji Lopez-Alt broke down the science behind the perfect roast chicken. If you have time to read the whole article, I highly recommend you do so through here. Essentially, the bare basic you need to know is:

The breast is cooked at 66 degrees Celcius, and the thigh is cooked at 80 degrees Celcius.

And so how does this happen when the chicken is trussed up together in one tight bundle? Well, you cut out the spine and flatten out the bird over a grill tray over a baking pan. Not only does it allow the  hot air to circulate around and under the bird – but also spreads the legs out to the corners of the oven – the hotter areas that are exposed to more energy. Invest in a meat thermometer and it will change your life.

As I had butterflied the chicken, I made a pile of cross-sectioned garlic and herbs to sit under the chicken. You can chop up the herbs and rub them over the skin, however I was going to insert truffle slices under the skin of the breast and maryland and did not want the herbs to mask the flavour directly. By placing them underneath I was still allowing their aroma to subtly infuse into the chicken whilst it baked. If you’re not using a truffle, feel free to whizz the herbs in a food processor and rub them over the skin.

Also – lastly but most importantly: skim milk powder. This is a trick I learned off watching Heston. The Maillard reaction created by heating milk brings out extra meaty flavours. I could go more into this, but enough babble – let’s get on with it already!

You will need:

  • 1 large free-range or organic chicken, about 1.5 kilos;
  • Half a cup kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper;
  • Fresh thyme, rosemary and oregano, or a mix
  • One bulb of fresh garlic;
  • 20g of fresh black truffle, sliced thinly with a mandolin;
  • Two tablespoons salted butter;
  • Two teaspoons baking powder;
  • Two teaspoons skim milk powder;
  • One tablespoon olive oil;
  • One medium onion, roughly chopped;
  • 1 medium carrot, roughly chopped;
  • 1 medium stick celery, roughly chopped;
  • 1 bay leaf;
  • 1 cup dry vermouth or sherry;
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce;
  • Three tablespoons unsalted butter;
  • Two teaspoons lemon juice.

Start this recipe the day before,

Use paper towels to pat dry your chicken. Generously sprinkle a third of a cup of salt over the entire bird, rubbing it into the skin until the outside of the bird is entirely covered. Depending on the size of your bird, you may not need to use all of the mix, as too much and it may end up over-salted. Loosely cover the chicken and refrigerate for at least 12 hours or up to three days.

Rinse off the brine, pat the chicken dry. Trim the chicken of any excess skin around the cavity or neck.

Place the oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 260 degrees Celcius (fan-forced). Using sharp kitchen shears, remove the spine from the chicken and cut the spine into five or so one inch long pieces. Set the spine aside.

Flatten the chicken by placing skin side up on a cutting board and applying firm pressure to the breastbone. Transfer to a wire rack set over a foil-lined rimmed baking tray. Position chicken so that the breasts are aligned with the centre of the baking sheet and legs are close to the edge.

Tuck your halved bulb of garlic and bundle of herbs under the chicken.

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To insert the truffle slices, gently pull the skin at the neck and bottom cavity away, and use a small sharp knife to ease away the membrane. Slide the truffle slices underneath, tucking them into the breast with your fingertips. For the thigh, I make a small incision where the thigh meets the body and slide more slices over the top of the maryland.

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Rub the two tablespoons of butter between your hands like you would a moisturiser, and rub all over the whole chicken. Sprinkle over salt, pepper, the baking powder and the skim milk powder.

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Roast the chicken until the thickest part of the breast close to the bone registers 66 degrees Celcius on an instant-read thermometer and the joint between the thighs and body registers at least 80 degrees Celcius, about 30 minutes, reducing the heat to 230 degrees Celcius if the chicken starts to darken too quickly.

Note: Don’t be concerned the chicken doesn’t release a lot of smell. The roast chicken smell means lost flavour!

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To make an amazing jus – not just a gravy!

Meanwhile, heat one tablespoon oil in a small saucepan over high heat until shimmering.

Add the chicken spine and cook, stirring frequently, until well-browned, about three minutes. Add the onion, celery, carrot and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown.

Add the bay leaf and deglaze the pan with vermouth or sherry and one cup of water, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Strain out the solids and return liquid to pan. Boil over medium-high heat until approximately a third (80ml) of a cup remains.

Whisk in the soy sauce, butter and lemon juice off heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove the chicken from the oven, transfer to cutting board, tent loosely with foil, and allow to rest five minutes before carving. Serve with the hot jus.

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