Thor Erickson’s tips include high heat, no basting and an empty bird
Editor’s Note: Cook Like a Chef is a feature designed to help you master cooking techniques that will give your homemade meals professional style and carefully crafted flavor. Each month, a chef/instructor from Cascade Culinary Institute at Central Oregon Community College will walk us through a skill or recipe. See them all at bendbulletin.com/chef.
A simple roast chicken dinner becomes simply amazing when you cook it like a chef.
You’ll get a moist bird with super crispy skin when you try this method by chef instructor Thor Erickson of the Cascade Culinary Institute.
He told us the keys to a great roast chicken are high heat, a dry, room-temperature chicken to pop in the oven, no basting and nothing inside the chicken.
“This is an easy recipe. I’ve pared it down to the way I do it at home, and it’s pretty simple,” Erickson said. “The hardest part is trussing it, and you don’t even have to do that.
Cascade Culinary Institute Chef Thor Erickson shows off his pan roasted chicken. "I usually judge people's cooking off how well they can roast a chicken," Erickson said. (Tess Freeman / The Bulletin) - Bulletin
Cascade Culinary Institute Chef Thor Erickson shows off his pan roasted chicken. "I usually judge people's cooking off how well they can roast a chicken," Erickson said. (Tess Freeman / The Bulletin)
Cascade Culinary Institute chef Thor Erickson checks the temperature of his pan-roasted chicken. Erickson suggests cooking the chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. (Tess Freeman / The Bulletin) - Bulletin
Cascade Culinary Institute chef Thor Erickson checks the temperature of his pan-roasted chicken. Erickson suggests cooking the chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. (Tess Freeman / The Bulletin)
Cascade Culinary Institute Chef Thor Erickson carves his the pan-roasted chicken after letting it sit for 10 minutes to let all the drippings soak out in order to make gravy. (Tess Freeman / The Bulletin) - Bulletin
Cascade Culinary Institute Chef Thor Erickson carves his the pan-roasted chicken after letting it sit for 10 minutes to let all the drippings soak out in order to make gravy. (Tess Freeman / The Bulletin)
“Try my steps, and you’ll get a roast chicken with nice caramelized skin on the outside that’s like a crispy chip. When you cut into it, you’re going to hear the crunch.”
Erickson starts with a fresh, naturally raised or organic chicken, especially because his family is eating less meat these days.
“We eat roast chicken about once a month, so we want higher quality; we want to really enjoy it,” Erickson said.
Erickson said to avoid using a frozen chicken because freezing changes the cellular structure of the meat.
“When a frozen chicken cooks, it gives up a lot of its water and the end result is it becomes really dry,” he said.
Erickson told us it’s unnecessary to rinse off chicken before cooking. The heat of roasting will kill any bacteria, and rinsing only adds moisture to the chicken and spreads germs all over your sink.
“Bring the chicken to room temperature before cooking it. Take it out of the fridge and let it sit on a plate on the counter for 45 minutes. When roasting, you want the food, especially poultry and meat, at room temperature, because the oven temperature goes down as soon as you put that big chunk of meat in there,” Erickson said.
You should carefully dry your chicken on the outside and inside with paper towels. Any moisture will create steam and make your chicken drier as it cooks. Generously salt and pepper the inside and outside of the chicken.
Avoid the temptation to put stuffing, a half a lemon, some slices of onion or garlic inside the chicken.
“The more you put inside the cavity, the slower it’s going to cook, and you’re adding moisture to the inside. I wouldn’t add anything beyond a thyme sprig and salt and pepper. When you add onion, garlic or a piece of lemon, you’re steaming the chicken from the inside, and it’s no longer dry heat cooking the bird,” Erickson said.
Trussing, or tying up the chicken, is tricky, but you can watch Erickson demonstrate it on the video posted at the top of this story.
“Trussing creates uniformity and helps the chicken get done in a uniform fashion, and it keeps those legs together. In the video I’ll show the official technique for trussing a chicken but if you just tie the legs together, that’s fine too,” Erickson said.
Be sure to have an instant-read thermometer on hand.
“You don’t want to use that thermometer floating around your drawer that was your grandmother’s that says ‘turkey’ on it. An instant-read thermometer that works is one of the most important tools you can have in your kitchen. I get a new digital one every year at Cash & Carry. It’s about 15 bucks,” Erickson said.
Erickson puts a rack on the bottom of his roasting pan or makes his own rack out of celery ribs and carrots.
“I want to make sure there’s enough space between the bottom of my chicken and the pan so air can circulate. You don’t have to go out and buy a fancy rack. If you have one, great; otherwise, take three hefty, clean celery ribs and three really nice, big, peeled carrots and put those under the chicken. The great benefit is you get those roasting juices coming off the chicken and you create a really flavorful stock. The celery is especially good since it doesn’t contain the moisture that the carrots do.
“Those tender, roasted vegetables are so nice to cut up and serve with your chicken, too,” Erickson said.
Once you close the oven door, you shouldn’t be checking on the chicken or basting it. You need to let the high heat work its magic.
“Four hundred and fifty degrees is hot! Roasting your chicken at super-high heat crisps the skin and cooks the meat as quickly as possible so it doesn’t get dry,” Erickson instructed.
After about 50 to 60 minutes of cooking, the chicken should read 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and then it’s ready to come out of the oven. It should rest on a cutting board, uncovered, on the counter for 15 minutes. (Covering it will create steam and make the crispy skin soggy.) That’s a good time to make a simple pan gravy (see recipe), and then you’re ready to carve and serve your delicious roast chicken.
You’ll also be ready to accept many compliments for your fine cooking skills.
3 TBS. half and half or heavy cream, optional (use if you like a creamy gravy)
Roasting rack that fits into the roasting pan (or 4 big carrots and 4 long celery sticks, cleaned and trimmed)
Kitchen knife or scissors
Let your chicken come to room temperature before you roast it.
Take your chicken out of the refrigerator at least 45 minutes before you put it into the oven. If it’s still fridge-cold when you put it in the oven, your cooking time will be longer, and your chicken won’t be as tender.
Don’t wash your chicken.
Rinsing your chicken just spreads nasty raw chicken germs all over your sink. If you cook the meat to the proper temperature (165 degrees), any dangerous germs or bacteria will be killed anyway.
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
Dry your chicken really well with paper towels, inside and out.
Any excess moisture will create steam and actually make your chicken drier, so use paper towels to pat your chicken dry on the outside. Then, grab a few more paper towels and stick them inside the cavity to absorb any liquid in there. Discard the paper towels.
Next, generously sprinkle kosher salt and pepper inside the chicken cavity.
The salt that you sprinkle inside will get absorbed into the meat from the inside, meaning that all of the meat will be flavorful, not just the outside surface.
Cut a piece of butcher’s twine about 24 inches long, and lay your chicken on a cutting board, breast side up with the legs facing away from you.
Put the center of the twine under the tail. Cross the ends, then loop them back under around the legs, and pull the string tight to bring the legs together.
Flip your chicken over. Bring the twine around the sides, tucking in the wings. Pull the twine tights and tie a knot at the neck, and put the string through the knot twice (this is called a butcher’s knot), then tighten. Trim the excess twine with scissors or your knife.
Flip your chicken back over, breast side up, and your chicken is trussed. If this whole trussing thing is frustrating and confusing, skip it entirely, or just tie the ends of the legs together. The chicken will still be great!
Season the outside of your chicken with lots of salt and some pepper. A 4-pound chicken will need about a tablespoon of salt. Use your hand to sprinkle salt all over the chicken to ensure that it’s evenly coated.
Place the chicken breast side up on a rack over a roasting pan. Using a rack is worth it, and ensures that your chicken cooks evenly and doesn’t stick to the pan. If you don’t have a rack, or would like to try something different, make a rack by lining up a row of big cleaned and peeled carrots and celery stalks and placing the chicken on top of the vegetables. When the chicken is done, you’ll also have a delicious side dish.
Put the chicken in the preheated 450°F. oven for 50-60 minutes.
Don’t flip, baste or check on the chicken unless smoke starts pouring out!
Opening your oven while the chicken is cooking will decrease the oven heat and increase your cooking time. Flipping your bird over is unnecessary when it is roasting on a rack, since the heat is hitting all sides of the bird evenly. Don’t baste your chicken. Basting will make the chicken skin soggy.
Note: if you peek and see some dark browning on the chicken, and your thermometer doesn’t read 165 degrees, put a sheet of foil loosely on top. Don’t seal the foil. Sealing will create steam that will make the chicken soggy. A foil shield will keep it from browning more.
Your chicken is done when its internal temperature is 165°F.
Insert your thermometer right between the breast and thigh; this is the thickest part of the chicken. If you cook the chicken past 165°F., it will start to dry out and won’t be as flavorful as it could be.
Let your chicken sit on a cutting board for 15 minutes before removing the twine and carving.
When your chicken is cooked, take it off the rack and set it on the cutting board, and then wait 15 minutes before you do anything else. Letting the chicken rest gives the juices a chance to settle, so that they soak into your meat and flavor it, instead of just flowing out onto the cutting board.
To make pan gravy while the chicken is resting:
Take the rack or vegetables out of the roasting pan, and deglaze the pan by adding about ½ cup chicken stock or white wine to the pan. Place the pan on top of your stove over a low burner. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up all the little browned bits that remain in the pan. Let that gurgle away, and to thicken the gravy, add a corn starch slurry, which is ½ teaspoon of cornstarch mixed into one teaspoon of cold water. Stir it around and shut off the burner. Taste the gravy, and adjust the salt for flavor. If it’s too salty, add a little water. If you like a creamy gravy, add a few tablespoons of half and half or heavy cream (not milk, which can cause a sauce to “break,” or separate).