Roasted chicken is simple—in theory. Bird meets hot oven. Dish is plated. But how to take it from good to that golden intersection of crisp skin and moist meat is where the debate begins. The variations are numerous, the allegiances to them strong—and likely to spark a knock-down, drag-out battle of wills before the path to the best roasted chicken is put to rest. Even the time-tested methods are being mined for perfection. After more than 25 years, Boston Market continues to explore various rubs and seasonings for its signature chicken, says Sara Rosenberg Bittorf, chief brand officer for the Colorado-based chain. So why mess with roasted chicken if it’s such a good thing on its own? To make it even better, of course.
The quality of the raw product makes a world of difference in taste and texture, chefs say. At Fig in Charleston, S.C., the free-range chicken comes from nearby Keegan-Filion Farm.
“We wouldn’t have chicken on our menu if it wasn’t grown locally,” says Chef-owner Mike Lata. Quality can also mean chicken raised naturally—drug- and antibiotic-free from hatch to harvest—like the birds Kristine Subido uses at her Chicago restaurant, Pecking Order.
Brining overnight ensures moister meat and a more luscious texture, says Chef Jeremy Blutstein of Tremont in New York City. He changes the brine seasonally, including his herbs, such as rosemary, sage and other aromatics, and a variety of fruits.
Some chefs shower the bird with salt—inside and out—a day before roasting, convinced that it helps achieve a crispier skin. Others simply smear butter or olive oil with herbs on and under the skin. Purists swear by a little salt and pepper. Despite the difference in methods, everyone agrees salt is essential.
Truss the bird so it cooks more evenly and prevents the breast from drying. Or keep it simple, stuffing the cavity with lemon or onion halves and herbs to promote even cooking.
More complex preparations have also been winning fans. The brioche-wrapped whole roast chicken at the Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland is a showstopper and top seller. It’s presented at the table with a big knife for carving. “It’s really become our signature,” says pastry chef Matt Danko.
Subido hopes for the same fate for her Filipino-style chicken. It’s the star at the chicken-centric, quick-casual restaurant she opened earlier this year after a longtime stint as a fine-dining chef. Her chicken goes a step beyond the brine with the help of a soy-vinegar marinade. It’s then placed on a rotisserie and slow roasted to perfection.
Janet Rausa Fuller is the former food editor at the Chicago Sun-Times.