Let’s get right to it. The only way to make a truly perfect roast chicken is to cut it in pieces, and then cook those pieces until each one is done. There, I said it. Call me a heretic if you like, but everything else you have tried, from Thomas Keller to Cook’s Illustrated recipes, can’t undo the basic truth. Chicken has two distinct kinds of meat and has an irregular shape. It is not meant to be cooked whole- and there is NO GOOD REASON to do it, particularly when there is a better solution.
I have been working for a while on finding the perfect metaphor for foodies’ seemingly endless quest to make a perfect whole roast chicken (and yes, I am guilty too). I am thinking “El Dorado” (never found), “Moby Dick” (ends badly, “to the last, I grapple with thee…”), “Charge of the Light Brigade” (they all died), “square peg, round hole” (just hit it harder..I swear) and even “the horror” (nothing like some Heart of Darkness to lighen the atmosphere in the kitchen…;-).
The point is, I can think of nothing more futile and fruitless than trying to successfully roast a whole chicken, and yet almost all of us try to do it, over and over and over. Even the luminaries of cuisine insist that it can be done, and we all slavishly learn multiple trussing, flipping or butterflying techniques to reach whole roast chicken Nirvana. We even convince ourselves that we succeed- but we rarely do (c’mon, you know the breast was a little dry or the legs could have been cooked a bit more, it is OK to admit it). And even if we do “succeed”, you just went through hell to get there- and there is no guarantee you can do it again.
How do I know cooking whole chickens is a futile endeavor? Let’s start with known, accepted facts: white and dark meat require different temperatures for doneness, whole chickens have an irregular shape and density, plus they have a big hole in the middle. All basics of cooking proteins suggest that these factors are not a winning formula for uniform doneness- we want uniform pieces that cook at similar temperatures and times. If we can’t have that, we should cook the pieces separately and to their desired doneness. We employ this logic for every other kind of meat, especially when roasting, but somehow we didn’t get the message with chicken. Continue reading