My first apartment in Paris didn’t have an oven. I remember standing in front of the owner, wondering aloud if I could live a year without the ability to bake, brown or roast. She looked at me in disbelief and asked why I needed an oven. I returned her disbelief and told her that I wanted to cook lots of French recipes, like roast chicken. She stopped me midsentence and said, “Oh honey, you’ll never make a roast chicken as good as the French do.” I let out a small gasp but eventually found myself in an ovenless apartment, agreeing with her that the local roast chicken can’t be beat.
Walking down the streets in Paris, you see roast chickens spinning on rotisseries almost everywhere. The smell calls you in, the reasonable price seduces you and the potatoes cooking underneath, bathed in chicken juices, close the deal.
Now that I have an oven again but no revolving rotisserie, I wanted to see if it would be possible to re-create the magical poulet rôti from France. Julia Child recommends an acrobatic workout with your chicken, flipping it every few minutes, basting it constantly and smothering it with butter throughout. The famed French chef Joël Robuchon has a similar flipping technique but with fewer steps and just two ingredients—chicken and butter. He also recommends finishing the bird by putting it into handstand position to allow all the juices to flow to the breast, an area that often dries out during cooking.
I decided to try part of Robuchon’s rotating method, but I was going to need to add some herbs and spices. I also like the ease of one-pot meals, so I threw a bunch of vegetables underneath the chicken to catch its juices as well as to provide a nice side. The meal pairs wonderfully with a structured, fruity, tart wine like La Pialade, from the Côtes du Rhône.
Oven or not, it’s good to know there are multiple options for a delicious roast chicken.
4-pound roasting chicken
1 tablespoon softened butter
1 lemon, cut in half
4 rosemary sprigs
tarragon, salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Place room-temperature bird on a work surface and rub butter under skin, on top of skin and inside cleaned-out cavity. Sprinkle the same areas with tarragon, salt and pepper.
3. Place rosemary and both lemon halves inside the chicken, then tie its legs together with kitchen twine.
4. If roasting vegetables underneath the chicken, place uniform cuts in a lipped roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.
5. Put a rack in the pan, and start the chicken on its side with wing tucked underneath. Roast undisturbed for 25 minutes, then flip to its other side, pouring 3 tablespoons of water over the bird and giving the vegetables a stir. Roast another 25 minutes.
6. After the 50 minutes with the two turns, place the chicken on its back and baste with the liquid forming in the pan. Cook for 10 minutes.
7. Place the chicken breast down and cook for 5 more minutes. The chicken is done when the juices run clear from the thickest part of the thigh and it’s nicely browned.
8. Remove the chicken from oven and elevate the tail end so it’s nearly vertical. You may need to use stacked bowls on which to rest the chicken and keep it upright. Cover with foil and allow to rest for 20 minutes before serving.