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.

Keller’s Roast Chicken Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 4.

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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

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.

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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.

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6 Slather the chicken with oil and season well with salt and pepper.

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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.

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Adapted from Thomas Keller's Whole Roasted Chicken on a Bed of Root Vegetables in Ad Hoc at Home.

43 Comments

  1. Christine @ Fresh Local and Best

    I learned a very good tip from this post. I’m going to try leaving the chicken uncovered in the refrigerator next time, and also bring it to room temperature before I roast it. I’ve done that before with duck, so it makes perfect sense to also try it with chicken.

  2. Joe

    Do you rinse off the chicken before you let it dry in the refrigerator?

    No. Just let it dry. ~Elise

  3. Lynn

    I love seeing your dad’s hands as he prepares that dish. Looks lovely.

  4. Kathy - Panini Happy

    I’m with your dad – it’s the only way I’ve been roasting chicken since I got the book, too. And I finally learned to truss a chicken! Lately I’ve been cutting down on the butter a little, but MAN it’s a great recipe.

  5. Tina

    I’ve been contemplating ad hoc for a while now, but just haven’t gotten around to adding it to the collection. This settles it, it will be the next addition! Actually, this is very similar to how I roast my chickens, except that I remove the back bone and flatten the chicken before cooking. The idea of letting the skin dry out for a day or so sounds very interesting; I’ll have to try it next time!

  6. Liane

    This was on Amateur Gourmet too! I have made this chicken recipe twice. It is awesome. The root vegetables are so amazingly good. Don’t skip the leeks unless you really don’t like them because they are fabulous. I might have to make this again really soon!

  7. Meredith

    I actually just made this last weekend (using the AH cookbook recipe) and was a bit underwhelmed – while the chicken was done on time (25 mins @ 475, 45 mins at 400) and tasted good, about half of the vegetables were undercooked. I thought this was perhaps because I cooked it in an oval ceramic baking dish instead of a cast iron skillet or roasting pan, so the veggies weren’t all touching the pan, but it looks like yours weren’t either. Did you have any problems with doneness? (As I sidenote, I had the same thing happen when I made the short ribs in that cookbook – they weren’t even close to being done in the 1.5-2hrs of cooking suggested by the book). So far (based on those two experiences) I’ve been a bit disappointed with the AH cookbook, which is a shame because I was so excited to get it. Some of it is probably my own fault, but I consider myself to be a pretty good cook – it just seems like the recipes aren’t specific enough in some places or weren’t tested well enough in home kitchens. Has anyone else had this experience?

    Perhaps the vegetables aren’t cut small enough? We haven’t had an issue with the veggies not being done. But then we keep the veggies in the pan in the oven after the chicken has been removed. ~Elise

  8. Linda In Washington State

    I am a big fan of thyme, salt and pepper as the seasonings for chicken. I use these spices for my roasted chicken and in the flour for chicken parmesan. I think roasted poultry is deceptively easy When I prepare my chickens for roasting,I slather them with left over bacon drippings mixed with lemon juice which crisps the skin nicely golden but without burning it. I sprinkle lemon zest, thyme and a finely ground kosher salt and pepper mixture on all over inside and out.
    Instead of pan roasted veggies which I love my but my guys don’t, I use a rack in the roasting pan and steam the veggies separate.
    I turn my chickens breast side down when roasting to keep them moist and juicy then turn them up in the last 30 minutes of cooking to brown the skin.

  9. jonathan

    You had me at “Keller” ;^)

    I’ve heard of that trick, leaving the bird to air chill in the fridge for a day or two, but the skin’s never been that big of a deal to me. For me, it’s always been about the bird. Didn’t our OCD friends at America’s Test Kitchen also have a baking powder rub trick to ensure crispy skin? I seem to remember seeing that…

  10. Fran

    What stands out to me about this chicken is it’s color. While it’s not the striking yellow like the chickens we saw at the market in Zihuatenajo it still looks incredibly fresh compared to the shrink wrapped birds with a diaper on the bottom we get at the supermarket.

    Do you get your chickens at a butcher or in a supermarket?

    It’s funny … a number of weeks ago I saw a roast chicken in a skillet at Ruhlman.com and thought it was a great idea — to roast a chicken in a skillet. I didn’t realize it was a Keller idea/recipe. I tell customers all the time to try doing it this way and all the while we’ve got copies of Ad Hoc on the bookshelves. Oops! Guess I need to use my discount and pick up a copy for myself.

    Darn it! That discount eats so much of my paycheck each month. :)

    We usually buy our chickens at Whole Foods. They are selling an air-dried (not plumped up with water) chicken that’s delicious. ~Elise

  11. Stephanie Manley

    I am going to have to try trussing up the roasted chicken next time I make one. I have never really utilized this step in my chicken preparation. I love the use of the root vegetables in here. I think root vegetables are underutilized, and one of the best things you can do with leftover roasted root vegetables is to purée them, and turn them into a cream based roasted vegetable soup.

    Great idea! – assuming you have any leftover roasted root vegetables, which we never do given their “necessary food group” status here. ;-) ~Elise

  12. PortiaB

    I’ve been roasting chicken this way for years and years, but in an All-Clad roasting pan rather than a cast iron skillet. That’s because my 12-inch skillet can’t accommodate all the veggies I put in without piling some pieces on top of others, and those pieces not touching the pan never get G,B&D.

    If you want a a caramelized crust on the veggies (which adds significantly to the flavor) it’s really important to have a cut side of each veggie piece touching the pan. Any pieces under the chicken but not touching the pan will steam rather than roast. They will still have chicken flavor, but they just won’t taste as delicious as the browned pieces.

  13. Rachelino

    I also made Keller’s roast chicken from the ad hoc book this weekend! It did take a bit more advance planning than normal, but the ethereal crisp of skin floating above the chicken was so worth the effort. The whole dish was great: incredibly flavorful vegetables, and the chicken was juicy. I think next time I will use a little less canola oil because I found the vegetables slightly too oily. I used the leek, and because I was too lazy to go further than the farmer’s market down the block for root veggies, I substituted celery rook for the turnips and ‘bagas, and it was still awesome.

  14. Sarah

    I love this recipe!
    Before this roast chicken, I’d never had rutabagas in my life.
    I’m a changed woman — they are amazing!

    My only recommendation to anyone considering making this is go do it NOW!

  15. Weaver

    Seems a little ‘doubled-up’ to me.

    Why use swedes and turnips?

    Swedes are just a superior form of turnip, if you have swedes you simply don’t need turnips.

    Replace the turnip component with parsnips and you might have something.

    Parsnips would work great. We love turnips and rutabagas. Turnips are just a bit more bitter, which is a nice note to add to the savory richness of the dish. ~Elise

  16. Julia

    Could this be done on a gas grill? Would the cast iron do alright?

    I don’t see why not, especially if it’s hot where you are and you don’t want to heat up the kitchen with the oven. And assuming you can tell what the temp is in the grill so you can properly adjust the flames. ~Elise

  17. Alexandra

    This looks great and I look forward to trying it. Keller also published a simple roast chicken recipe at Epicurious.com using the same principals of a totally dry chicken at room temperature and no added fat. It is almost stupidly easy and results in a truly stupendous crispy roast chicken. The carcass made a wonderful stock. With all the debates about breast up or down, to baste or not to baste and the perfect and or various temperatures to roast chicken, this is unbelievably easy and a hands down winner. Trust it and try this one too: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/My-Favorite-Simple-Roast-Chicken-231348

    • Tama

      I’ve been using the simple roast chicken recipe & it has become my families favorite – everyone raves! Today, I just wanted a little change and am so glad to come across this recipe by Keller also. I can hardly wait to try it tonight!

  18. Susan

    I do not understand why people seem to have problems getting the skin crisp when roasting chicken. It’s full of fat itself, it is totally exposed to heat and I just don’t get that it needs to be dried out first. I can’t imagine exposing everything in my fridge to raw chicken for two days and I just don’t have the room to do that! Maybe Ad Hoc has a separate refridgerator or campartment to use.

    As a matter of course, I’ve always rubbed the entire chicken with light coating of olive or other oil and sprinkled it with salt and pepper and it’s always been crisp (though I don’t like skin myself, others in my family do). I do use my (12″) cast iron skillet to roast most meat, but only because it’s easier to make the gravy. I get those beautiful browned bits that drip and caramelize on the pan and have the benefit of a pan that actually fits easily on one burner and has a handle! Plus, it keeps my skillet naturally seasoned. I stuff the chicken with thyme, parsley, garlic, celery and carrots because it helps flavor the juices for the gravy and the steam they give off permeates the meat with moisture and flavor. We do eat the carrots, I mash the garlic into the potatoes that I cook separately, and discard the celery.

  19. Vera Kuswanto

    I’ve been warned about thawing meat on the counter because of threat of food borne illesses. Would this be a concern when leaving the meat to come to room temperature?

    Good question. You should be especially careful with ground meats, such as hamburger or ground pork, because the grinding has introduced air into the meat. With whole roasts, it isn’t as much of an issue, especially since you are about to subject it to at least an hour of cooking at a high temperature. In this case you will be cooking the meat through and through which will kill any bugs. Jacques Pepin has been known to say “if a bug can survive a 400°F oven for an hour, it deserves to live” or something like that. That said, room temperature to me means 70°F. ~Elise

  20. Rachele

    I would like to hear from someone who has also done Keller’s “Favorite Simple Roast Chicken” recipe (the same as that Epicurious link). A comparison between the two would be interesting. I wonder why he adds fat in one recipe but not in the other?

    The first roast chicken recipe has been our standard roast chicken recipe for the last five years and it is INCREDIBLE. I will have to try this new one and see if it is better. Hard to believe that is possible!

  21. Sunny

    I saw the question of whether or not to wash the bird before drying in the fridge and you said no washing. I always wash chicken inside and out before I cook it. So does this mean no washing…period?
    Years ago I always stuffed the bird with quarted oranges and lemon after squeezing the juice all over the bird/then rubbing butter all over it afterward. Never had a problem with browning. But I would attempt this recipe. Just need to know about the cleaning of the poultry.
    Thanks for sharing this recipe with us.
    Sunny

    I would say that if you always wash your chicken, then go ahead and rinse out the chicken. Just pat it dry before you put it back in the refrigerator. ~Elise

  22. DojiStar

    This looks like an excellent way to roast chicken. I will definitely use the veggie selection and let my chicken warm up to room temp in the future — I don’t think I’ve been letting mine sit out long enough.

    If people are still having trouble getting crispy skin, one good trick I learned (I think from Cuisine at Home but not sure) is to run an (ordinary serving, preferably flat) spoon under the skin to separate it from the meat. Be sure to get both the breast and the drumsticks. This guarantees that the skin will be crispy, although I think the trick of “leaving it out in the fridge” will accomplish the same thing. You can also insert spices under the skin this way to make sure the meat is flavored and not just the skin.

  23. Nicole

    This sounds really yummy! I want to make it right now.

    How would I modify the cooking times and temps for a cornish game hen? I only cook for myself, and a whole chicken would go to waste for me alone…but a game hen would be the perfect portion. Any recommendations?

  24. Christina Leo

    Hey Elise,

    I have a convection oven. Should I lower the cooking temps by 25°F?

    Thanks!

    Hi Christina, typically with convection you lower the temp by 25°F and also reduce the cooking time a bit too. ~Elise

  25. SallyBR

    This recipe was the first one I made from AdHoc, and it is indeed outstanding!

    Never thought of making it in a cast iron pan, I bet it makes it even better. I am always a little shy about using my cast iron pan, because of fear of everything sticking to it. NOt sure I do a good job “seasoning” it.

  26. Moze

    My roommate picked up Ad Hoc at Thomas Keller’s book signing last week and made this last night. Oh wow. So so so good.

  27. KathyS

    I made this last night and while the top was crispy the underside was not at all. Was the bottom of the chicken supposed to touch the cast iron, or should I have turned it during the initial browning? Mine also took much longer to cook than the suggested time.

    The underside should be sitting on the vegetables. The underside will not get crispy, but will be quite tender. ~Elise

  28. Rosie

    Great recipe-thank you! I usually make my chicken “zuni-style” so I combined the Keller technique above (notably the air drying and the bed of root veggies) with the zuni method of high heat and a dry cast iron pan. The chicken was juicy, the skin crisp and the vegetables delicious. I did not add any oil to the vegetables before or after I put them in the hot cast iron skillet and instead just let the fat from the chicken provide the needed moisture. Delicious and easy-my new, ‘go-to’ method.

  29. Debbie

    All I can say is wow! Not only does this dish taste great, it presents well also. Thanks for the great recipe.

  30. KC

    This is a delicious roast chicken recipe and I loved doing the whole thing in the cast iron pan. Thanks for posting it. We liked it so much my boyfriend surprised me and ordered the cookbook today!

  31. Miss Fig

    I just want to chime in & say Keller’s Simple Roast Chicken (Epicurious link above) is the only way I roast chickens now. Sure it sometimes sets off the smoke alarm, but once we followed someone’s trick of setting the chicken on sliced onions, we haven’t set it off again. After I bring home the chicken (we are so lucky to have a local stand that gets chickens, eggs & rabbits from the Amish,) I dry it and salt it thoroughly and stick it in the fridge uncovered until we’re ready to cook, and then bring it to room temp and pat dry before roasting. So good! I can eat that once a week. We also get a small one, 3 or 3.5 pounds. Sometimes we roast two.

  32. Selma Tannenbaum

    Absolutely the best roast chicken I have ever made. The vegetables were delicious too. I was wondering if this method could be adapted to roasting a small turkey…about 14 lbs. or so?

    What would the cooking time differences be, if it could be done?

    Thank you for the recipe and for a response (in advance).

    Great question. No idea. If you experiment with this, please let us know how it turns out. ~Elise

  33. Gretchen

    We just got a lovely pastured chicken from a local farmer, so it seemed like the perfect occasion to try this recipe. It came out beautifully; we could have browned the skin even more but it was still golden and crispy. I love roasting the vegetables in the pan beneath.

    We changed the mix of the veggies a little, using chioggia beets, baby cauliflower, cremini mushrooms, and spring onions as well as rutabega and leek. And in my er springtime exuberance I got more vegetables than could fit into our skillet, so we also also roasted another whole pan of veggies alongside the chicken.

  34. Andrea

    Elise, thank you so much for this recipe! It was fun to make and kind of an adventure since I’d never had a rutabaga before! It was delicious and impressive. Thanks again.

  35. Chrissy

    I made this recipe tonight and it turned out beautifully! I’ve never roasted a whole chicken before, but this was not at all difficult. The skin was crisp and gorgeously golden, the meat was by far the juiciest I have ever tasted, and the vegetables…(swoon), WOW. So glad my chef brother gave me a roasting pan for Christmas this year!

  36. Monty Burns

    Parts of this recipe did not work out very well for us. While the vegetables turned out nicely, the chicken was a bit of a disaster. After the suggested bake time, the inside of our chicken was still pink. We had to roast an additional hour.

  37. Katie

    I have made the other Thomas Keller recipe mentioned above and it is amazing. I will try this one to compare.

    I found this post looking for Thomas Keller turkey recipe… anyone know of one?

  38. CoryC

    Do you think it would be possible to brine a chicken before using this recipe? Brine it overnight, perhaps, and then let it sit in the fridge for a day?

    Keller’s roast chicken is perfectly wonderful without needing a brine. But if you want to try brining it, by all means go for it. Please let us know how it turns out for you. ~Elise

  39. Jeff

    Thomas Keller is brilliant. This recipe is so adaptable to what you have.I used a cut-up kosher free range chicken, prepared it to step two and let it sit overnight. Today I brought it back to room temp added fresh rosemary (habitual) and French thyme from the back yard, oiled it, buttered it and an hour and ten minutes later-plus resting time- the best chicken that I have ever managed to produce!
    Happy pre-valentines to us!

  40. Demis John

    This recipe is fantastic! The tying instructions were really easy, and there’s so little prep! The vegetables and chicken come out really really good.

  41. Mary

    This is my new favorite way to cook a chicken! I had everything in the pantry except the rutabagas, so just skipped them. Thrilled to say that everything came from local farms, right down to the thyme and garlic :) ONE QUESTION: the recipe calls for a thigh temp of 160…all of my poultry guides, including my meat thermometer, call for 180…is 160 really safe? I left my bird in longer and it did seem drier than when I have cooked it longer at lower oven temps, but at least it felt safer!

    Yes, it’s safe, assuming that you have an accurate meat thermometer. The USDA now recommends an internal temperature of 165°F for poultry. If you have been cooking this chicken in a 400°F oven, when you take the bird out of the oven, the internal temperature will continue to rise at least another 5 degrees. ~Elise

  42. Priyanka

    I made this last week, and it was the best chicken that I had ever tasted, let alone made!

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