A roasted chicken can be incredibly satisfying when it’s done the right way. It can be equally disappointing when it’s done poorly. My goal is to make sure the bird, come hell or high water, stays juicy and flavorful. So I separate the skin from the meat and slather it with flavored butter. I like lemon, dill, and honey as basic seasonings for the butter, but you could take the flavors almost anywhere. For Latin flavors, try jalapeño-lime butter. If you like Indian food, add curry powder to the butter. Either way, the cooking method stays the same. I truss the bird into a tight ball to cover up the parts that tend to dry out. No one eats the ends of the wings, so I sacrifice them and cross them over the breasts to shield the delicate breast meat from the heat. You lose a little crispness on the skin over the breast, but remember, my goal is juicy meat. The single most important thing you do is let the bird rest, breast side down as if it is standing on its head, after it comes out of the oven. Cooking chicken forces moisture out of the meat, and gravity draws the juices to the bottom of the bird. I let the chicken rest inverted so that the juices get reabsorbed into the breast meat. When you carve it, chicken should be bursting with juices.
Feeds 2 hungry folks
Garlic – 1 head
Lemon – 1 fat one
Shallot – 1 peeled
Poulet Rouge chicken – 1, about 3 pounds
Honey-dill butter – 1 cup, at room temperature
Salt and ground black pepper
1. Adjust the oven racks so your chicken can roast upright. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
2. Cut the head of garlic and the lemon in half across the equator, and cut the shallot in half lengthwise.
3. Remove the packet of goodies from the chicken cavity and pat the cavity dry with a paper towel. Stuff two paper towels into the chicken while you are prepping the bird to absorb any additional juices.
4. Thoroughly wash and dry your hands. If you’re a glove user, by all means, this is the ideal time to slip on some nice tight food-handling gloves and work away! Gently slip your fingers between the skin and meat on the breast and thighs, working your fingers across the meat to separate the skin from the meat. Take care not to tear the skin. Generously slather 3/4 cup of the honey-dill butter under the skin of the breast and thighs.
5. Remove the paper towels from the cavity of the bird and discard. Sprinkle the cavity liberally with salt and pepper. Push one lemon half, skin side first, into the cavity of the chicken, wedging it up into the neck end. Stuff both shallot halves into the bird, then stuff in half the head of garlic, cut side in. Stuffing the cavity full helps the chicken to cook evenly by slowing down the transfer of heat from inside the bird to the breast meat. Reserve the remaining lemon half and half head of garlic for another use.
6. To truss the bird, start with a piece of butcher’s twine about 5 feet long. Lay the chicken, breast side up, on your work surface. Fold the twine in half and put the center point of the twine under the butt end of the chicken. Taking a piece of twine in each hand, wrap the twine up and around the chicken and securely bundle the legs and tail nub together. Cross and pull the ends of the twine up and around the top end of the chicken and tuck through the joints of the wings. Cross and loop each end of twine around the wing tips so that you can pull and bundle the wings together. Cross the wings over the breast of the bird and pull the ends of the twine back around to the rear of the bird and tie securely, making a nearly round ball out of your chicken. Your chicken will look fat and happy with its little arms crossed over its chest.
7. Slather the remaining 1/4 cup honey-dill butter over the entire outside of the bird. Sprinkle all sides liberally with salt.
8. Thoroughly wash your hands. Again.
9. Cut a 3-foot piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and fold it into a long 1 1/2-inch wide strip. Mold it into a 4-inch-diameter ring and place it in the center of a 10-inch ovenproof skillet. Set the chicken in the pan, breast side down, so the ring supports the chicken. The chicken will look like it’s doing a headfirst cannonball into the pan. You’ll have to fiddle with this a bit to wedge the bird in place; you want the bird tilted at a slight angle, breast side down, while it roasts. Fold a small piece of aluminum foil in half and tent it over the tail end of the bird.
10. Transfer the chicken to the oven and roast for 40 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven and turn it on the foil so the breast side is up. Remove the tent from the tail end and discard. Insert a meat thermometer into the thigh of the chicken, return the pan to the oven, and cook to an internal temperature of 160°F, 15 to 20 minutes more. The chicken should be nicely browned.
11. Remove the chicken from the oven and adjust the foil so the chicken rests breast side down. Let rest for 20 minutes before carving.
Makes about 1 1/3 cups
Fresh dill – 1/2 cup finely chopped
Lemon – 1 plump
Butter – 1 cup, at room temperature
Honey – 1 tablespoon (optional, for honey-dill butter)
1. Wrap the minced dill in a paper towel and squeeze tightly to remove the liquid that could turn your butter green. Stir the dill, 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, and 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice into the softened butter.
2. For honey-dill butter, stir the honey into the lemon zest and juice before adding to the dill and softened butter.