Welcome to Cooking 101, a fun, weekly series of cooking lessons and hands-on learning from America's Test Kitchen Cooking School. Who are we? Our knowledge and techniques are based on 20 years of test kitchen work creating foolproof recipes for Cook's Illustrated magazine and for our television shows. We believe that everybody, whether novice or advanced, can gain the skills and confidence to become a better cook.
(read other Cooking 101 posts)
ARE YOU READY FOR THE HOLIDAYS? In our FREE "Successful Holiday Cooking" course, we lead you through all the tough holiday-cooking topics, like building a cooking timeline, an equipment checklist to prepare one's kitchen, and what essential ingredients to stock up in your pantry.
A roast chicken recipe can have as few as three ingredients -- chicken, salt, and pepper -- but that doesn't mean it's easy to prepare a good roast chicken. The biggest challenge is getting the white and dark meat to finish cooking at the same time. The architecture is not built for even cooking -- the bird is thicker and thinner in spots, and the cavity just complicates matter. Also, the breast meat dries out at an internal temperature above 160 degrees, while dark meat isn't even done until it reaches at least 170 degrees. In addition, the skin is often flabby, and plucked off before eating.
But before you start cooking, it pays to be well prepared. Here are 6 must-haves for roasting a chicken.
Shopper's tip! When it comes to selecting poultry at the supermarket, pay attention to the processing method. Some chickens and turkeys are injected with a salt solution to promote extra juiciness. If purchasing an injected chicken or turkey, do not brine it. Similarly, don't brine a bird that has been koshered, which is a similar process to brining. If buying a fresh, non-injected chicken or turkey, we do often recommend brining or salting the bird to help it stay juicy.
1. Big Bowl
Poultry is notorious for cooking unevenly, so to prevent the leaner breast meat from drying out before the dark meat is cooked through, we often will soak the bird in a salt and water mixture called a brine. During brining, the salt breaks down the fibers of the bird, turning them into a web that traps the salty water. The result is moist, seasoned meat. Rubbing the bird inside and out as well as under the skin with salt is another option.
2. Roasting Pan
Use a thick, heavy pan that can shield any aromatics placed in the bottom (which might be the makings of a flavorful sauce or gravy) and prevent them from burning.
3. Roasting Rack
An angled V-rack cradles the chicken, and its widely spaced supports allow for maximum browning in the oven. Because hot air circulates freely around the chicken, it cooks more evenly.
4. High Heat/Medium Heat
We often use a combination of moderate and high heat when cooking poultry. The moderate heat allows the bird to cook through, while the high heat crisps the skin.
5. Instant-Read Thermometer
Poultry needs to reach a certain internal temperature in order to be safely consumed. We insert the thermometer into both the thickest part of the breast and thigh to determine whether the chicken is ready to remove from the oven. The white meat should register 160 to 165 degrees and the dark meat should register 170 to 175 degrees.
6. Cutting Board
To ensure that the juices of the chicken don't come flooding out as you slice into it, rest the chicken on sturdy cutting board before carving it.
READY TO COOK? In our "Essentials of Roasting" course (free for Yahoo! Shine readers through December 16, 2012), we teach you everything you need to know about the hands-free cooking method of roasting, from Crisp Roast Potatoes to Slow-Roasted Beef.
See what we're up to at America's Test Kitchen Cooking School. Get access to our complete catalog of over 100 courses, receive personalized one-on-one instruction, and become a better cook today!