12 Things to Remember When Duplicating Thomas Keller’s Roast Chicken at Home

By :  PigTrip     Nov 17, 2015
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Some say it takes a tough man to make a tender chicken; others say it takes a James Beard award winning chef to make a perfect one. But Thomas Keller’s otherworldly roast chicken—still the number one seller at Bouchon—is achievable at home, as long as you remember these steps and philosophies. Many are taken from Keller’s instructional video for Viking, but no need to haul your laptop into the kitchen. We’ve got you covered with this handy cheat sheet.

It’s the ultimate comfort food.

"Roast chicken is so loaded with reference points and memories," Keller told the Washington Post in 2009. "It is the flavor of every phase of my life, from childhood to now. It is comfort food, and I don't want it to change." So don’t try to overthink it or make it too fancy. Just make great comfort food.

Thomas Keller’s Roast Chicken
Photo by: New York Times

Select the right bird.

Establish a good relationship with your butcher and you’ll source great meat to start with. And bigger isn’t better: smaller chickens (two to three pounds) will achieve inner doneness before the exterior has a chance to dry out.

Temper, temper.

“Temper” the chicken, that is. Take it out of the refrigerator and let it get to room temperature. When it’s at room temperature it will cook more evenly.”

Dry the cavity. Season the cavity.

Salt. Freshly ground black pepper. That’s it.

Thomas Keller’s Roast Chicken
Photo by: Greg Williams

You put your right hand in, you take the wishbone out.

This optional step yields a much cleaner slice when it’s taken off the bone.

It’s a matter of truss.

Trussing the chicken brings all the parts together “in a compact package so that as it’s roasting, it’s roasting more evenly.” This involves tucking the wing tips underneath the bird, securing with butcher’s twine and additionally using the twine to pull the legs up against the side of the breast. Additionally tying the neck down pulls the skin taut.

Drop the salt. Literally. And liberally.

“I love my chickens to have a liberal coating of salt.” And the best technique is to hold the salt “well above what you’re seasoning,” so that “as the salt falls, it’s snowing or raining over the chicken and is dispersed evenly.” Then do the same with the black pepper—freshly ground, of course. Adding fresh thyme is much simpler: just tear it and place about a teaspoonful of it on top.

Roasted vegetables are optional.

Add root vegetables to an oiled pan. Or not. You can just roast the chicken, but vegetables are good for you. Carrots, onions, parsnips, turnips, leeks and celery work best. This creates “a nice base for our chicken and, more importantly, gives us our vegetables that we’re going to eat and enjoy with our chicken after it’s roasted.”

Thomas Keller’s Roast Chicken
Photo by: Matthew H

Bird on, bird in.

Place the bird on top of the vegetables and stick the pan in an oven heated to 450F. Roast until done (50 to 60 minutes; internal temperature 165F). Let it rest at least ten minutes before carving, to allow the juices to distribute properly.

Carve. Plate. Salt again.

“A little finishing salt,” says Keller, “brings some more flavor into it, but it also brings texture: you crunch a little piece of salt in your mouth, and it just explodes. And we love that.”

Forget the sous vide.

Like Rocky Balboa poo-pooing high-tech training methods in Rocky IV, Keller shuns high-tech methodogy and geeky gadgetry for his chicken. "When you taste duck, beef, veal and lamb that have been prepared using sous vide, they are all good," he told the Washington Post. But that identical texture "is root for some concern." Translation: cooking chicken using sous vide might attain technical perfection, but it might not have the feel that feels the love. Contrast of texture is much more important.

Thomas Keller’s Roast Chicken
Photo by: George Bremer

Practice makes perfect.

The more you make it and the more often you make it, the better this chicken gets. "I think the reason I became a good cook is because I love the repetition," notes Keller. "If you make a dish once and then evaluate, you might think that the recipe or the dish is not good, whereas the problem might be that it just takes some getting used to." We suspect that this chicken will come out good enough that you’ll want to keep making it again for its own sake.