Thomas Keller’s easy roast chicken

Keller’s easy roasting style

Listen up folks, it can’t get any easier than this. After watching uber chef Thomas Keller whip out this roast chicken on a recent episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation, I thought: “There is no reason, America can’t cook!
It’s no secret that the United States population has the highest consumption of processed food. When I first came to the U.S., the microwave was my friend. I marveled at all these frozen dinners that cost less than $3.00 and cooked (or heated up) in 5 minutes or less (granted they tasted like crap most of the time). I didn’t cook, let alone boil water because I grew up in the Philippines pampered with mostly home-cooked meals made by other people. You see, I thought I’d embrace the American lifestyle of supermarkets and fastfood. I had developed bad eating habits. For example, breakfast – Doritos and a Big Gulp, lunch – microwaveable frozen dinner, dinner- Chinese takeout. My brother still loves to tell the story about when he first visited me in 1998, he opened my refrigerator and all he found was a bottle of coke.
But it didn’t take me long to miss the taste of real food and I eventually taught myself to cook.
As I delve into the American psyche of processed food, cake-box mixes and frozen dinners, I do understand their convenience. Unlike other countries where it’s easy to hire servants in an average-income household, this is almost unheard of over here. Cooking involves planning, prep work, the actual cooking and then clean up. Throw in 2.5 kids, it’s no wonder why most folks would rather order take-out.

But then is all this dependence on processed food the reason for this nation’s obesity problem? We end up spending more time losing weight or more money correcting the consequences that this brings.

Anthony Bourdain was right in that if you want to cook, you need to learn some basic knife skills and it’s best to start by learning to chop onions. Get yourself a 10lb. bag from Costco and start prepping.

Good thing is, you don’t need much knife skills to make this roast chicken.

So, not much prep work.

You need to plan to buy the chicken of course. Ideally, it should be 3.5 lbs (smaller chickens are better for high temperature roasting). Look at this gorgeous bird from Polyface farms.

Lovely bird

Wash the chicken, inside and out and pat dry with some paper towels. (I usually do this ahead of time and leave it uncovered in the refrigerator). For the chicken to roast properly let it come to room temperature, a 1 to 1.5 hours out of the refrigerator should be enough.

Preheat the oven to 450 F.

Salt the inside of the chicken about 1 teaspoon.

Sprinkle it in

Pepper to taste.

Yes, I stuck that peppermill in there ‘ala Keller, just remember to sanitize it later

Keller said it was important to truss your chicken because this creates uniform density which makes for even cooking. You may also remove the wishbone, this makes carving the breast meat out easier. The pictures for this step got corrupted. In fact, I had to redo the entire trussing sequence because of the damaged CF card. Poor chicken had to endure all the manhandling all over again. Unfortunately, there is only one wishbone.

Order starts Left to Right, Top to Bottom

Click on the picture to enlarge in the lightbox. 1. Tuck the chicken wing as shone to provide some support when it lays on the pan. 2. With a 4ft. butcher’s twine, start under the butt. 3. Go over the legs 4. and then under the legs. 5. You should see a figure of “8” 6. Pull twines to draw legs together. 7. Turn chicken over and thread under the neck 8. (not sure if the next steps are the same as Keller’s, but it’s what I did.) Come up under the wings 9. Tie a simple knot.

Place chicken on the pan. Salt from high up so it disperses evenly. Sprinkle some thyme or any herb of choice. Thyme is easy because all you have to do is run your fingers through the stem if you don’t feel like chopping up any herbs.

It appears I forgot to pepper outside! The salt should appear more than it should on this picture, some of it dissolved by the time this picture was taken.

Pop into the oven. Come back after 50 minutes to an hour (depending on chicken size).
(I’m not sure how you check your oven temperature, but after 5 minutes of putting the bird in, I make sure that my oven is still at 450F by turning the knob off and resetting it to 450F. Usually, mine drops like 40F and that might affect total cook time and browning).

So how did it taste?

I’ll admit that its taste is not as life-altering as the Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken which involves salting the day before and turning the chicken over twice during cooking. But for the effort involved in this and the overall great flavor, I’ve already put this on a Tuesday night weekly rotation.


Cooking Notes:

Thomas Keller doesn’t believe in basting because it produces steam and steam is not what you want with this quick roasting method. I used roughly 1 tablespoon of salt on the outside and 1 teaspoon inside. These are just guidelines, as different salts weigh and measure differently. You’d like to have a good coating of salt; not all the salt disappears after cooking. This produces a pleasing crunch when you bite into the chicken which is why you want to use good salt. I use Maldon, its flaky texture lends itself perfectly for this.
Some warning. If you use a saute pan, remember that the handle is hot. It’s always good practice to handle pots and pans with a towel or a glove whether they are hot or not. Believe me, you’ll thank me later for this.

So, what do you all think? Easiest roast chicken ever right? There is simply no excuse not to try it!

P.S. Polyface chickens come already trussed. I just untrussed it so I can show the trussing sequence with a butcher’s twine.


30 thoughts on “Thomas Keller’s easy roast chicken

  1. I’m glad you learned how to cook! I agree. It’s easy and there’s no reason why everyone can’t cook simple fresh food quickly and easily.

  2. You know a funny thing about Thomas Keller’s restaurant in New York Perse. He came up with the name after someone said so it is going to be like The French Laundry and he said “Well it is not going to be like the French Laundry….Perse”. And then a name is born. Nice post.

  3. I love the story of you pre-learning how to cook – that’s almost the situation of some of my immigrant relatives πŸ˜›
    I’m unused to chicken that has not been greased on the skin, or at least marinated in soy sauce and kalamansi (awesome), but this does look very good – I’m going to crack my Ad Hoc at Home open too!

  4. I love this recipe too – it’s a regular staple in our rotation. Your trussing pictures are impressive, I wish I would have seen them before my first attempt, when I was shuttling back and forth watching an old Thomas Keller on the computer to try and get it right.

    Also, I was curious where to find Polyface chicken that is already trussed? I’ve been getting them through their monthly delivery and they are frozen and untrussed. I’d love to buy one occasionally that didn’t need to be thawed or trussed for a quick weeknight meal – is there a butcher in town that sells them this way? Thanks!

  5. Thanks everyone!
    Manggy – I’m still working on my soy,lime (no calamansi here :() marinade that includes a can of sprite. Still working on cooking method.
    Cindy – Ellwood Thompson has Polyface chicken. They cut the skin so it can be trussed through it. I’m surprised they don’t do it for all their chicken.

  6. Some time ago I found a recipe for roast chicken much like this one in The French Farmhouse Cookbook that has been my never fail make everybody moan with happiness chicken. People love it. Only real difference I see is mine uses a lemon inside. That hi heat is so fine on it πŸ˜‰
    Now I really need to try the Zuni recipe after your recommendation.

  7. Just went to the Zuni recipe and must try the 24 hour pre-season thing! Have to find out what that change would do … does it change things as much as brining to grill chicken I wonder?

  8. Tanna – Zuni’s dry brine is incredible! The flavor is all the way to the bone and the chicken is incredibly juicy even after I’ve overcooked it to 200F.

  9. I have used this recipe twice. Your oven temp drop may have been my issue the first time. The second time I cooked the bird longer and LOVED the crispy skin! And it was moist inside. Very simple, but the chicken fat also coated part of my oven. Clean up was a chore.

  10. I had to read about you learning how to cook twice!!! I would never have guessed. Your directions are impeccable. I’m oh so bad at trussing. Now, I’ll think of you when ever I mis-turss, LOL.

    Can a chicken look beautiful? Yours looks timeless:) Thank you so much for sharing…

  11. Love the step-by-step trussing pictures! So very helpful, since I tend to wing it each time I roast a chicken. And easy, quick roast chickens have their place, just like the life-altering ones do πŸ˜›

  12. Veron, thanks for all the tips. The chicken looks very delicious. I have not roasted a whole chicken yet. Usually I bake chicken thighs only. One of these days I’m going to give a try.

  13. Oh! Your roasted chicken looks beautiful, the only whole chicken that I have at home is fro Costco πŸ™‚ Love the step-by-step pictures.

  14. it amazes me that people think a roasted chicken is so difficult. It is such a comforting dish to enjoy with family and friends, in a way that a microwave dinner just cannot πŸ˜‰

  15. Fantastic pictures! It takes a lot to beat a roast chicken dinner – and having the leftovers in chicken sandwiches the next day is even better πŸ™‚

  16. It’s very interesting to me that most roast chicken American-style is mostly salted and that’s pretty much it. I love my roast chicken with deeper and more exotic flavors, I don’t know, tastes that I can’t decode, like back home. LOL. That’s why I have yet to roast a chicken at home because I haven’t yet found that secret recipe.

  17. Simplicity at its best! Although, I must admit, that everytime I have to truss a chicken, it’s like I’m teaching myself all over again. I keep turning the chicken around, trying to remember which is the right end to start with …

  18. Sorry to hear that you found your way into the American way through junk food, it could have been different….

    By the way, people in other countries don’t cook good and healthy food because just they have or can afford cheap servants, you got it all completely wrong!!! Food can be fun and a loving family event. Actually it is not complicated to cook good simple food and it doesn’t demand preparations at all or do you really believe Thomas Keller invented the wheel?


  19. Bee- I am still testing an Asian roast chicken, can’t get the skin quite right, maybe I’m basting too much and that is causing too much steam.
    Claudia – I’m just stating what I observed when I check-out in the supermarket and what I see in the majority of grocery carts. I know cooking can be a fun family event but when I came to the U.S. I lived alone for a while and though I probably could happily prepare a great meal for myself, it can get old just cooking for one.
    Thomas Keller is not known for simple recipes so I don’t think he invented that wheel. Though I appreciate simple recipes like this one, I think I’m wired for complicated and hard to perfect ones.

  20. Just discovered your wonderful blog while looking for a recipe. You are right, most Americans don’t realize it takes more time to get take-out than to prepare a chicken dish. High temp is the key for a fast meal. Also, buy a food thermometer to test to see if done.
    Kosher chickens (Empire, organic or not, sold at Trader Joe’s are best) are already soaked and salted. Just rinse well, shove fresh herbs inside, add quartered orange, carrot and celery, truss and bake. One hour and it’s dinner.

  21. I made this last night;what a surprise to read about it here this morning.

    I didn’t see the show with Bourdain; I found the “recipe” online, but used a 500 degree oven, and I cheat and put just a little lemon in the cavity. I can’t help myself.

    But for me, the recipe I had found is all about what you do with the bird after it’s cooked. You use melted butter, dijon, and I added a little squirt of lemon and also garlic, as a “basting” sauce after the chicken has been cut up and ready for serving. This butter-mustard sauce is to die for. And that’s when I put on the thyme – I put half in the sauce, and half over the meat.

    Exquisite. Next, I’ll have to try the Zuni CafΓ© method.

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