Mmmm, roast chicken.  Is there anything more classic or tried-and-true as a perfectly roasted chicken?

Roast chicken was a staple in our family when I was growing up.  My dad not being a fan of turkey, every Thanksgiving and Christmas, my mom (and eventually me, when I got older) would roast a chicken for dinner.  Our usual method was to place the chicken on a bed of root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, etc) in a large roasting pan, put a lid on it, baste it every 30 minutes or so, and remove the lid for the last 30 minutes of cooking to brown the skin.  It worked pretty well each time, but the white meat always turned out a bit too dry, even with the lidded approach.

This past weekend – along with my sudden urge to bake focaccia – I had an urge to roast a chicken.  I hadn’t roasted a chicken in a long time and thought it was time to give it a try.  Plus, it’s nice to roast a chicken for two – guaranteed leftovers for at least a few days!

For this roast chicken, I decided to try a brine before roasting.  I’d seen a ton of holiday specials on the Food Network on brining a turkey before roasting for a more moist, tender finish so I figured the same principle would work for a chicken.

I searched the web high and low and settled on a simple brine recipe to use as a base (found on Allrecipes.com), then used a roast chicken recipe from Jamie’s Food Revolution for the cooking of the chicken.

Here’s the finished brine with my chicken getting happy.  The dark colour is courtesy of soy sauce.  At first I thought, “soy sauce? This seems weird” but thought I’d go with it and see what happens.  I added a few of my own touches to this brine recipe.  I read elsewhere that boiling a portion of the water with the salt and sugar helps to dissolve it, rather than stirring it all together in cold water.  I boiled 2 cups of water with the salt and sugar, let it sit for about 10 minutes, and added into the rest of the water.  The brine stayed cool so there’ s no need to cool down the boiled brine all the way to room temperature.  I think if you plan well enough ahead, you can boil the whole brine – probably works best if adding any herbs, etc to get the flavours to impart into the hot liquid.

I brined the chicken for about 6 hours.  The recipe specified that I could brine the chicken between 4 hours to overnight.  Being the first time brining, I thought to play it safe and go for at least a good 6 hours to see how it turns out.  After removing the chicken from the brine, I rinsed the chicken thoroughly under cold running for about a minute, patted it dry with paper towels, then stuffed butter, fresh thyme and basil underneath the skin.  I ended up having a ton of thyme and basil leftover from the batch I bought, so I stuffed it into the cavity.

I roasted my chicken on a bed of roughly chopped onions, carrots, or celery.

Tada!  The finished product, served with roasted potatoes and a simple arugula salad dressed in balsamic vinaigrette.  The meat was incredibly moist and tender – I didn’t even need a knife to cut through the white meat!  Although tender, it wasn’t to the point of being mushy – the texture was just perfect.  This is probably the best roast chicken I’ve made to date and I believe it’s all due to the brine.  It gave the chicken a subtle saltiness, but definitely nothing overpowering.  I think next time I might leave the chicken in the brine a little bit longer to see how that affects the flavour of the meat.

For the Brine (adapted from this recipe found at Allrecipies.com)

  • 1 gallon (16 cups) cold water
  • 3/4 cup kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 8 bay leaves
  • 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 6-inch ginger root, cut into thick matchsticks

Bring 2 cups of the water to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Add the sugar and salt.  Stir and heat until dissolved.  Pour the hot liquid into a large bowl and let cool for 10 minutes.

In a large stockpot (or other container that is twice the volume of the water), pour in the rest of the water, soy sauce, and olive oil.  Add the bay leaves, thyme, garlic, and ginger root.  Stir well.  Add the cooled, boiled liquid.  Place chicken in the brine, cover, and refrigerate for 4 hours to overnight.

To cook the Chicken (method adapted from Jamie’s Food Revolution) **based on a 4-pound chicken

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • sprigs of fresh thyme
  • fresh basil
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 stalks celery

Preheat your oven to 475F.  Give the vegetables a wash (no need to peel) and roughly chop them.  Place the vegetables in one layer on a roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil.

Remove the chicken from the brine.  Rinse thoroughly under cold running water for about a minute.  Pat dry with paper towels.  Rub a generous amount of butter underneath the skin of the breast meat and stuff carefully with thyme and basil.  Apply the remaining butter to the outside of the skin.

Place the chicken on top of the vegetables in the roasting pan and put it into the preheated oven.  Turn the heat down immediately to 400F and cook the chicken for 1 hour and 20 minutes (*if you’re doing roasted potatoes, get them into the oven for the last 45 minutes of cooking).  If the vegetables look dry at the halfway point of cooking, add a splash of water to the pan to stop them from burning.  When cooked, take the pan out of the oven and transfer the chicken to a board to rest for 15 minutes or so.  Cover it with a layer of aluminum foil and a kitchen towel.

Once fully rested, carve, serve, and enjoy!