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How to cook the best roast chook ever

Sophie Gray's roast chicken

Taste food writer Sophie Gray tried every version of roast chook she could find, and pronounced this one The Best (with butterflied roast chicken in second place)…

Legendary chef the late Judy Rodgers of Zuni Café, in San Francisco, devised a method of roasting a chicken that is not at all how Nana used to do it. While requiring some forward planning and a fair bit of hands-on action, the end result is an Instagram-worthy, golden, crispy bird with tender flesh.


Remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse chicken and pat very dry (a wet chicken will spend too much time steaming before it begins to turn golden brown).


Slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets, then use a fingertip to gently loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Push a herb sprig into each of the 4 pockets.


Using about ¾ tsp sea salt per 500g chicken and pepper to taste, season the chicken liberally all over. Sprinkle a little of the salt just inside the cavity and on the backbone. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover loosely and refrigerate for 1-3 days (at least 2 days for a 1.5kg bird).


When you’re ready to cook the chicken, heat the oven to 245°C. (Depending on your oven and the size of your bird, you may need to adjust the heat to as high as 250°C or as low as 230°C during roasting to brown the chicken properly.)


Choose a shallow, ovenproof roasting pan or dish barely larger than the chicken, or use a 25cm sauté pan with an all-metal handle. Preheat the pan over medium heat.


Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle.

Place in the centre of the oven and watch for it to start sizzling and browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn’t, raise the temperature progressively until it does. The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce the temperature by 15° degrees.


After about 30 minutes, turn the bird over (drying the bird and preheating the pan should keep the skin from sticking). Roast for another 10-20 minutes, depending on size, then flip back over to re-crisp the breast skin for another 5-10 minutes. Total oven time will be 45 minutes-1 hour.


Remove the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Pour the clear fat from the pan, leaving the drippings. Add about 1 Tbsp water to the hot pan and swirl. Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts of the chicken, then tilt the bird and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juice into the drippings.


As the chicken rests, tilt the roasting pan and skim the last of the fat. Place pan over medium-low heat, add any juice that has collected under the chicken, and bring to a simmer. Stir and scrape.


Cut the chicken into pieces and pour the pan drippings over the chicken. Voila!

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