Oven Roasted Chicken | Amazing Crispy Chicken Skin
At various stages throughout my overly long college career, there were few things that obsessed me as much as roasted chicken. It may have started from the time that I “borrowed” my mom’s yellowed 1967 edition of Julia Child’s famous tome, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. There it was, right on page 240: “ You can always judge the quality of a cook or a restaurant by roast chicken.”
The romance of something so simple and so basic leading to something so elegant transported me. I imagined traveling to quaint French bistros where I would eat perfectly roasted chicken, drink a glass of thoughtfully deep red wine, listen to wandering street musicians, debate the merits of various twentieth-century political thinkers, and then head home (on public transit, bien sur!), where I would listlessly strum on a 14th Century classical lute until 2:00 a.m. before falling into bed and waking up in time to drink the richest, darkest coffee imaginable.
Right. Back to reality and my college classes. In the moments when my mind wandered from studying, it often landed on roasted chicken. One time, a college roommate walked into the kitchen as I was in mid-roast, fastidiously following Julia’s recipe. He worked in the kitchen at the world famous Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, and I wanted to impress him. He told me, “Roast chicken? You’re a wild man!” I knew that I was doomed.
I have since worked through many, many, many different versions of roasted chicken. Mountains of recipes are available in magazines, cookbooks, and websites, all claiming to provide that perfect chicken: Juicy meat on the inside, slightly lemony and tart with pleasantly dark-tan roasting juices pooling on your plate where you absent-mindedly run your chicken with your fork as you debate with your dining companions the literary merits of the most recent Nobel prize winners.
And then there’s the crispy chicken skin: paper thin, hot, crunchy, salty. When they came up with the concept of umami, I’m sure it started with someone eating crispy chicken skin. My grandmother at Thanksgiving, it was told, secretly pilfered the best, crispiest bits of turkey skin before everyone else was served. And God bless her! Apparently, I have learned.
So too, has Charla. It seems that the way to her heart is crispy chicken skin and roasted garlic. I can’t describe her expression when she eats a piece of crispy chicken skin followed by a chunk of roasted garlic, but I can only smile and try to dig for another one.
You can cook chicken in a few basic cuts: Whole, the way Julia did it; spatchcocked, where the chicken is split open and assigned the funniest word in the English language; or cut into various kinds of serving pieces. In any case you will need high heat – at least 425 degrees in the oven or on the grill, and you will benefit from simple seasoning like salt and pepper plus a coat of canola oil or olive oil on top of the skin to hasten the crisping.
The other day, I opted for cut-up pieces. As often happens when I stumble across yet another roasted chicken recipe, I had to try a new one out. This one, from an old employer decades ago, Williams-Sonoma, came out amazingly well. Switch up the vegetables if you like, and add capers or preserved lemons for even more flavor. This recipe includes potatoes, and they are a smash hit because they are roasted in the pan cut-side down, which browns them better than french fries.
There are several different ways to cut up a whole chicken. If you are pressed for time, you can always get a whole cut-up chicken at your butcher or grocery store. You could even just buy different cut up parts. Just remember to get chicken pieces with the skin on – after all, that’s what most of this post is about, regardless of one’s view on how healthy it is.
Pro tip: Buy a whole chicken and cut it up yourself. Keep the roasted backbone for yourself and your dearest friends. You will discover that the backbone has the tastiest meat and the most impossibly crispiest skin. It’s a shame that backbones are usually discarded when chickens are cut up at the store before we buy them. And don’t forget a copy of some literary classic to read after dinner. Somehow, you might be in the mood.
Oven Roasted Chicken and Vegetables
- 1 whole cut-up chicken, or about 8 chicken pieces
- 1 head garlic, split into individual cloves (or however much you can tolerate), unpeeled
- Potatoes, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
- Vegetables: Red onions, asparagus, mushrooms, or zucchini
- Optional: 1-2 TSP cumin
- Optional: Juice of one lemon
- Optional: 2 TBSP capers
- Olive oil
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Coat the chicken pieces with olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper Optionally season with cumin as well. Place skin side up in one half of a large roasting pan.
Coat the cut potatoes in olive oil, and add salt and pepper. In the other half of the roasting pan, place the potatoes, cut side down. Put the pan in the oven for about 45 minutes. Afterward, test the potatoes for doneness – and brown-ness – and remove the potatoes and chicken breasts only to a side dish. Add the vegetables and capers to the pan with the remaining chicken pieces and return to the oven for 15 minutes more.
Remove pan from oven and add back the potatoes and chicken breasts to reheat them. Serve immediately.