After-Dinner Note:
Really Roast Chicken
5 January 2018

¶ We Anglophones have a thing about meat that we cook in the oven: we don’t want to call it “baked.” But the very essence of baking is the absence of a focal flame. A baking oven is equally hot everywhere, and very hot nowhere. It’s great for cakes and breads and casseroles, and necessary for high-collagen cuts of meat that require long cooking. But roasting requires fire. What we call “broiling” is just a manner of roasting small pieces of meat that cook very quickly (ie, before the outsides turn to black ash). 

For years, I have been suffering odious comparisons between the chicken that I “roast” at home and the “roast chicken” that they serve up the street at Demarchelier. My chicken is so awfully heavy. Even when it’s not quite cooked at the bone, still a little rosy, and not altogether delicious as a result, it tastes as if it has been too long in the oven. I’ve been tempted to ask how they do it at Demarchelier, where it’s my favorite dish, but I would feel honor-bound to confess that I’d never eat theirs again if I could figure out how to do it myself. Over the years, in any case, I have ruled out (a) special chickens and (b) magical marinades. This leaves only cooking technique, which I probably wouldn’t be able to reproduce without professional-kitchen equipment. 

Because this entry is getting too long, I am going to spare you my thoughts on opening the mail one afternoon a month ago and finding the 2017 edition of Cook’s Illustrated. (Yet another!) All I need to say now is that I actually looked into it after dinner last week and found, to my great surprise, that there were at least four recipes that I wanted to try, pronto. 

Lan Lam’s “Fastest Weeknight Chicken,” from the March & April issue, was one, and I find, on putting it to the test, that it takes me more than halfway to Demarchelier. The chicken is, yes, broiled, but at a distance. I couldn’t have done it in the kitchen upstairs, because the wall oven there had a broiler drawer beneath that allowed a maximum distance from the flame of about five inches. In this apartment I have a stove with one of those dual ovens, oven heat below and broiler heat on top. So the chicken could sit about a foot below the fire. Thanks to one of Lan Lam’s astuces, the skin browned lightly and evenly, with no puckering: I had taken a larding needle to the bird, and poked holes at 3/4-inch intervals. 

Another trick calls for putting the oiled and seasoned chicken in a lightly-oiled, smoking-hot skillet right before putting it in a cold oven and then turning the broiler on. This gives the dark meat a stretch of extra heat. 

Kathleen thought that the chicken done this way just tasted very good, maybe a little better. For me, it was like a new species of fowl. A birthday present that I really do wish I could have opened up thirty or forty years ago. 

One Response to “After-Dinner Note:
Really Roast Chicken
5 January 2018

  1. JKM says:

    Selfishly, I wish you’d received this birthday gift circa 1977-1980, because then you could have served it to us at one of your fabulous law school dinner parties (I’m assuming, of course, that I would have been invited to the event)! Wishing you a very Happy Birthday and many more to come, so you can continue to perfect your roast chicken technique!