This month’s Kitchen Bootcamp challenge was Chapter 20 of The Professional Chef “Grilling and Broiling, Roasting and Baking”. I simply could not NOT post the recipe (well, it’s more a method than a recipe per se) for Mr Neil’s famous roast chicken. For us, roast chicken is a simple staple meal. We have it a couple of times a month and friends are always clamouring for an invite for Mr Neil’s chicken. A few months ago, for French Fridays with Dorie, when I hosted a dinner party and served M Jacques’ Armagnac chicken, the comment most guests had was that “this is nice but I prefer Mr Neil’s version.” Okay then. So here we go. As I said, it’s not really a recipe, it’s more learning what makes a good roast chicken. For us, that means crispy skin and juicy on the inside.
You start with a lovely bed of whatever vegetables you like (sturdy ones like carrots, turnips, parsnips, potatoes and thick-cut onions), tossed in a little olive oil with some lemon zest, salt, pepper and herbs. We like thyme with our roast chicken. Then you clean out the cavity of the bird and stuff it with a couple of lemons, some garlic and more herbs and spices (preferably the same ones you used on the vegetable bed).
Next, you’re going to shove some butter under the skin of the chicken. Yes, it looks weird but it will make for a tasty bird. Rub some more butter over the outside of the bird, season with salt and pepper.
Now, place the pan in a pre-heated oven at 450˚F for about 15-20 minutes until the top starts to brown nicely. It should look something like this:
Then you will lower the heat to about 380˚F and continue to roast the bird for between 60-90 minutes or until the a meat thermometer inserted into the high part of the thigh registers 180˚F. You’ll baste the bird with either the pan juices (this is difficult if the bird is sitting on the vegetable bed) or some melted butter (because butter really does make everything better). Once it’s cooked, remove from the oven, cover with foil and allow to rest for about 10 minutes before you carve it. It will be the best roast chicken you’ve tasted.
So that’s it. So easy.
But definitely not the best version of this recipe, not by a long shot. Our good friend, Charlotte, who was visiting us from Michigan a few summers ago had the privilege of helping Mr Neil make dinner one night. This dinner:
Later she wrote up her version of the recipe for us. And her mum, Cathy, has been very generous in allowing me to share it with you today.
“On Saturday night, I ate a chicken that I made, well, sort of. Mr. Neil and I took two chickens and we sliced up lots of potatoes and onions and we set them on the bottom of the pan and set the chickens on top of the vegetables. Then we took fairly large amounts of butter and stuffed it in the breasts. We put the butter under the skin but not in the chicken cavity. We put a lot of butter in because Mr. Neil said that everything tastes better with butter (and because it makes the skin crispy and the meat moist). Next we stuffed a lime and a lemon in the cavity of the chicken, and then we put lots of garlic in the cavity, too. We put some spices – some pepper and salt – in and on the chicken. At some point, we also grabbed chunks of butter and spread it all over the chicken. Then we put it in the oven and let the skin get crispy for fifteen or twenty minutes and then we put it in the oven for its real time, about an hour and a half. Every maybe twenty to twenty-five minutes or so, we spread some warmed up butter (that we melted in a pot) on the outside of the chicken. After it was done, Mr. Neil cut it up and put it on a plate and then we ate it and lots of people enjoyed it. I liked it; it was a little bit spicy to me because I had added a teeny bit too much pepper. (Typist’s note: It was delicious!)”
– Charlotte, aged 7 (at the time).
I don’t know about you but I personally would LOVE a recipe book written like that. I mean, it’s how most of us cook, right?
Speaking of cookbooks, Kitchen Bootcamp is moving onto a new book in May: The New Best Recipe (from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated). Want to join us working through this fabulous book? Check out the Kitchen Bootcamp page here and buy The New Best Recipe on Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.
Stand up for REAL FOOD with me on May 19th. Find out how here.
Mardi Michels is a full-time French teacher and part-time food blogger based in Toronto. Her blog, eat.live.travel.write focuses on culinary adventures both near and far because she travels as often as she can!