Keller’s Roast Chicken
Thomas Keller is most known for his landmark 3 Michelin star restaurant, The French Laundry in Yountville, California. French Laundry food is famously exquisite, requiring an insane amount of preparation for each dish (if you’re curious about just how insane, check out Carol Blymire’s now retired French Laundry at Home blog in which she cooked her way through the restaurant’s cookbook.) A few years ago Keller launched another restaurant in the area, ad hoc, for patrons who wanted quality, without all the fuss. Home cooking, done incredibly well.
Out of the restaurant came the cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home which made its way to our home last fall, and into my father’s hands. Now, normally my dad shows only a mild interest in the various cookbooks that come our way (unless it’s a cookbook featuring sauerkraut and pork, in which case he’s all over it), but this time, not only did dear old dad read the book cover to cover twice, but he enthusiastically tackled Keller’s roast chicken with root vegetables, cooked in a cast iron pan. (I’m guessing it’s because the recipe calls for rutabagas and turnips, dad’s favorite food group next to sauerkraut and pork.) But for whatever reason, it’s now the only way that dad will roast a chicken (at least for the last 5 months).
The recipe may seem a little involved, but once you get the hang of it, it’s dead easy. The first time dad made it there was a bit of howling from the kitchen as he tried to get the wishbone out (of the raw whole chicken), or as he attempted to truss the chicken without the drumsticks slipping out of the string. But the results are just so darn good, he kept at it and now puts it together easily.
The chicken must be at room temperature before it goes in the oven, or the chicken will not cook evenly. What Keller recommends (and what we do) is leave the chicken in the refrigerator, uncovered (on a plate and not touching anything else in the fridge), for 1-2 days after buying it, so that the skin gets a bit dried out. It will roast up crispier this way. Then 1 1/2 to 2 hours before it goes in the oven, we put it on a plate on the kitchen counter to come to room temp (about 70 degrees). Remove the neck and giblets from the cavity of the chicken before you set it out to come to room temp. (Save for stock.) Note that Keller's original recipe calls for a leek (to be cooked with the root vegetables), which we skip in our adaptation.
- One 4 to 4 1/2 pound chicken
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled (smash with the side of a chef's knife, makes it easier to peel)
- 6 thyme sprigs
- 3 medium-sized rutabagas (also called "swedes"), ends cut and discarded, rutabagas peeled, and any outer tough layer discarded, then rutabagas cut into 3/4-inch wedges
- 2 medium-sized turnips, prepared the same way as the rutabagas
- 4 medium-sized carrots, peeled and cut in 2-inch segments
- 1 small yellow onion, peeled, roots cut off but core kept intact (see the photos for Frenching onions), other end cut off and discarded, the onion then cut into quarters
- 8 small red-skinned new potatoes
- About 1/3 cup olive oil or grapeseed oil (Keller uses canola oil, we prefer olive or grapeseed oil)
- 4 Tbsp butter, room temperature (spreadable)
- A large (11-inch if you have it) cast-iron frying pan
- Kitchen string
1 Preheat oven to 475°F.
2 Use a paring knife to cut away the wishbone from the neck/breast area of the chicken. You will probably have to use your fingers to feel around for it. This is a little bit tricky, but if you can remove the wishbone first, it will make the chicken easier to carve after it is cooked. (This ease of future carving is the only reason to take the bone out, so you can leave it in if you want.)
3 Generously season the cavity of the chicken with salt and pepper. Add three of the garlic cloves and 5 sprigs of the thyme to the cavity, using your hands to rub the thyme and garlic all around the cavity.
4 Truss the chicken with kitchen string. To do so, start by cutting a 3-foot section of cotton kitchen string. Place the chicken so that it is breast up, and the legs pointing toward you. Tuck the wing tips under the chicken. Wrap the string under the neck end of the bird, pulling the string ends up over the breast, toward you, plumping up the breast. Then cross the string under the breast (above the cavity and between the legs). Wrap each end around the closest leg end, and tie tightly so that the legs come together.
5 Place the vegetables, onions, garlic, and remaining thyme sprig into a bowl. Add 1/4 cup of olive oil (or grapeseed or canola oil) and toss with your hands until well coated. Season generously with salt and pepper.
6 Slather the chicken with oil and season well with salt and pepper.
7 Create a bed of the root vegetables in a large cast iron pan (or use a regular roasting pan if you don't have a cast iron pan.) My father likes to leave out the potatoes at this stage and arrange them around the chicken. Place the chicken on the bed of vegetables. Slather the top of the chicken breasts with butter. (Note that we added some extra sprigs of thyme to the top, probably because my dad forgot to add them to the vegetables! But it still worked.)
8 Place the pan in the oven and roast the chicken for 25 minutes at 475°F. Then reduce the heat to 400°F and roast for an additional 45 minutes, or until the thickest part of the thigh registers 160°F on a meat thermometer and the juices run clear.
9 Transfer the chicken to a cutting board, cover with aluminum foil and let rest for 20 minutes before carving to serve. You can keep the vegetables warm by keeping them in the now-turned-off oven while the chicken is resting. Stir to coat the vegetables with the cooking juices before serving
10 Cut the chicken into serving pieces. Place vegetables on a serving platter with the chicken pieces arranged on top.