One of the reasons that chicken is difficult is that by the time it is cooked throughout, the breast is already getting dry. Quite simply, while it may take 45 minutes for the thigh meat to cook, the breast meat was done 20 minutes ago and has been cooking at a decent heat for way too long. One way to get around this is to butterfly the chicken.
While I'd like to blame my inconsistencies on the rather sub-par oven I use (I swear it is never the actual temperature it says), I'm afraid that roast chicken is something I'll have to continue to improve upon.
That said, while it might not be perfect every time, my roast chicken is pretty darn good every time. One of the great things about roast chicken is its versatility. While my favorite is seasoned with perhaps the most tastiest, most versatile seasoning combination around (*ahem* salt, peper, and a little thyme), you can really mix this stuff up if you want. Lemons, fennel, garlic, carrots, etc... can all be stuffed in the cavity, and you can spread whatever you want on the skin. Cilantro, mint, ginger, oregano, beer,....whatever. Chickens are only a few bucks: experiment!
First, you want a medium-sized chicken. I try to find natural ones, not the normal, Pamela Anderson huge-breasted Frankenchickens you typically get at the store. The Korean market here in town has some good, fresh ones for cheap.
The first thing I do is uncover the chicken, wash/dry it, and let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours. The goal here is to get as dry a skin as possible, which will in turn help you get that crispy skin. Putting it in the refrigerator helps because it is so dry in there that it will help dry off your chicken.
However, take it out a few hours before you cook it. You want it to come to room temperature.
Letting it come to room temperature is important. If you put a cold bird in the oven, you're already starting behind the 8-ball. While it comes to temperature, I also like to season it and let that salt/seasoning really get in there.
For this chicken, I used a combination of paprika, cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, thyme, black pepper, and kosher salt. Lots and lots of kosher salt. It is really hard to over-salt your chicken skin.... I use over two tablespoons, and that isn't too much at all. Some would say it's not enough.
Also, make sure not to wash your hands yet. Instead, get the seasoning all over your fingers....
On the neck side of the chicken, if you dig a little, you can actually get your fingers all up in between the chicken breast and the skin. It's like high school dates all over again.
Repeat the same process on the other side. Make sure to really dig around in there. If you do it right, you can even reach the thighs and wings.
Let that sit for a couple of hours so that the bird is room temperature (or close to it). Next, grab a pair of kitchen scissors and cut along the backbone on both sides
The result of this will allow you to press the chicken down and open it up like a book. You really want to get it as flat as possible. I save the backbone. It adds flavor, you can gnaw on it after or use it to make stock, gravies, sauces, etc...
Next, we make sure our chicken skin is crispy. We are going to fry the entire bird breast side down in hot oil for a few minutes before flipping it over and baking it. So, heat up some oil (any kind put olive; that stuff is gross when heated up) in a cast iron skillet. When it's really hot, put the chicken in the oil.
You should hear it sizzling and popping. This is good. After a few minutes, you should be able to flip the bird over without it sticking to the pan. Once you can do this, the skin has cooked enough.
Put it in the oven at ~350 degrees. It should only take about 20 minutes. You have already fried the skin and cooked a good part of the breast, you just need the rest to get up to temperature. As ls long as the thighs easily separate from the body or a thermometer reads 160 degrees in the thickest part of the chicken, you should be good.
It will look like this when it comes out.
Next, you actually want to wait a bit before cutting up the chicken. It's so hot right now that if you cut it, the juices are going to come pouring out of any incision. Therefore, wrap it up in some aluminum foil for about 5 - 10 minutes. This will allow the juices to "lock in," making for a jucier chicken. Be sure to let the steam escape, though... we don't want to ruin that cripsy skin by getting it all soggy.
Finally, I carve the chicken up into serving portions. Here, I have 2 breasts, two thighs/legs, and 2 wings.
And perhaps one of the best parts about roasting chickens is the chicken drippings. All that fat/oil/seasoning is just sitting at the bottom of your pan just begging to help you make something good. You can add a little flour and water and cook down to make a gravy, you can add some wine and reduce it to make a sauce, or you can just sautee stuff straight in it. For this meal, I only had mushrooms, but it was delicious.
I typically cook something with the drippings as I am letting my chicken rest for a bit.
So there you go. I hope you guys try it and like it as much as I do!