I have been on a quest for some time to find the perfect roast chicken recipe and I can now say that I have found a winner! It is from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc At Home cookbook, which is almost too pretty to cook from (especially when you are as messy as I am in the kitchen!).
I've tried a ton of other techniques, including the Cook's Illustrated New Best Recipe method that requires you to use a v-rack and rotate the chicken three times and Tom Colicchio's recipe in How To Think Like a Chef that has you sear the skin on the stovetop first. Both produced pretty good chicken, but an annoying amount of tending for what should be a simple stick-in-the-oven-and-mostly-ignore dish. Keller's recipe is not only the tastiest of all, but the easiest too! No brining, searing, rotating, or basting necessary.
The first key is to start with a good small chicken (3-4 pounds). I got mine from Whole Foods last week when they were having a sale on their "free range" whole chickens. I was a little nervous because I've had corn allergic reactions to supermarket chickens in the past and was not certain that this one would be safe, but fortunately I had no problems. I'd like to find a more local and sustainable source that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, but for now this is a good and cost effective option.
Keller recommends you unwrap the chicken a day ahead of time and let it sit in the refrigerator uncovered so the skin can get nice and dry. Then, take the chicken out of the refrigerator 1-2 hours before you start cooking it to allow it to come to room temperature. I've never done either of these things before and I think it made a big difference.
The recipe is simple. Generously salt and pepper the cavity, shove a few crushed garlic cloves and thyme sprigs in, and truss the chicken following the directions in the book. He says trussing helps keep the breast from drying out. Then rub canola oil on the outside of the chicken, season it generously, and place a couple pats of butter on the breast before placing in the oven to roast for 25 minutes at 475, then lower to 400 and roast for another 45 minutes. I also roasted carrots, potatoes, and onions in the pan to make it a one dish complete dinner.
The result: An incredibly moist, delicious bird with a beautiful crisp skin!