Follow me on Twitter

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Think Like A Chef - Roast Chicken

I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have tried to do something as simple as roasting a chicken.  It comes out over cooked, or worse yet, not cooked.  Roasting happens to be the first technique in Tom Colicchio’s book “Think Like A Chef”.  Of course, the first recipe is Roast Chicken. 

The recipe is simple enough.  One chicken 3 to 3/12 pounds, 2 sprigs of rosemary, two sprigs of thyme, a tablespoon of peanut oil, kosher salt, sea salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.


Remember, part of my challenge is to make this food as fat free as possible.  So, the question becomes, do I use “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” instead?  The pros and cons are pretty obvious.  Butter is all natural, the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” is definitely not.  I’m not a huge fan of putting chemicals in my body.  On the other hand, I’m also not a big proponent of putting fat in my body.  The butter is used for basting the bird.  According to a blog that I found called, “An American Chef in London”, most of the basting liquid is not absorbed.  It is used to slow down the drying out process.  So less chemicals or less fat?

For every tablespoon, Land O'Lakes unsalted butter has 100 calories, 99 from fat.  That’s 17% daily allowance of fat and 35% daily allowance of saturated fat.  The butter “product” shows 100 calories, 17% daily fat allowance, but only 11% daily allowance of saturated fat.  That’s a huge difference, especially since I am using two tablespoons.  Even though most of it would not be absorbed, I finally chose to go with the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.”

The first thing I had to do was stuff the cavity of the bird with the thyme and rosemary.  Yes…I took out the bag holding the giblets.  Then I had to season the bird with kosher salt and pepper.  One mistake I made was that I should have seasoned the bird underneath the skin.  A lot of the fat from poultry comes from eating the skin, which we were not planning on eating, so I will need to remember that for next time.

Then came the trussing of the bird.

Ok, I have a confession to make.  I am the least mechanically inclined man living on this planet.  Oh, all right.  You caught me in a lie.  Truth be told, I am the least mechanically inclined HUMAN BEING on earth.  Really.  If it goes beyond hammering a nail, I’m pretty useless.  So despite watching 15 videos on YouTube, showing how to beautifully truss a bird, mine came out like this:

Funny, huh?

Despite being possibly the worst trussing job in the history of mankind, it did the trick.

Now the recipe calls for the oven to be preset to 375.  While the oven is coming up to temp, I am supposed to heat up a pan with the peanut oil and brown the sides of the bird with the peanut oil for about 7 minutes a side.  I did some research and read that the higher the temperature of the oil, the less oil is absorbed.  This calls for a medium high heat, so I don’t think that much oil will be absorbed into the bird.

Also, this is the first recipe I have seen for roast chicken where you brown the sides of the bird.  But if you think about it, it makes sense.  The breast tends to dry out faster so by the time the legs and thighs are done, the breast is like a desert.  This technique will give the legs a head start.

After 7 minutes a side, the bird goes in the pan breast side up, and cooks for 20 minutes.  My bird was 3.82 pounds, so I increased the cooking time to 22 minutes.  After that, add the butter to the pan and cook for another 30 minutes or so, basting occasionally.  I increased the time to 34 minutes.

You’ll notice from the picture that the skin on the breast was not really browned.  As anyone who has read my restaurant reviews, that is a big no no.  But, I am not going to eat the skin. I imagine this happened because there is a high water content in the butter product I used.  If it was my “Eat Anything You Want” day, I would have used regular butter, and it would have browned better, I’m sure.

We saved the legs and thighs for an “Eat Anything You Want” day, and concentrated on the breast.  Once the breast is on the plate, you sprinkle it with a tiny bit of sea salt.

I have to tell you, the bird was a success!  The breast meat was super juicy and I tore apart the leg and it too was cooked perfectly.  The breast meat was ever so slightly under seasoned due to me seasoning the skin which we were not going to eat, but it was still delicious.

As for the calories:  I tend to overestimate these things, but I think it is pretty close.  The breasts on chickens these days are huge.  You know how when you see a wild turkey, the breasts are not as big as they are when you see them at a farm?  Same thing.  So we are getting two meals – or four portions - out of the breasts.  With no skin, if I use Perdue Perfect Portions as a guide, the calories are 150 calories, 13 fat calories or 1.5 grams.  That’s constant.  In trying to estimate the calories and the fat content from the peanut oil and the butter product, since it seems that most of this isn’t absorbed, I will go overboard and say 1/2 of each is absorbed.  Then those numbers will be divided by 4 since we are getting four portions.  So the butter product is 100 per tablespoon.  Two tablespoons = 200 calories.  ½ is absorbed so we are back to 100 calories.  We got 4 portions, so 100 divided by 4 = 25 calories, or 2.75 grams of fat.  (Follow that?)  The peanut oil is 120 calories from fat.  We only used 1 tablespoon, so ½ absorption = 60 calories.  Divide that into the four portions and we have 15 calories from fat or 1.5 grams of fat.

So the way I figure it, the total calories for Tom Colicchio’s Roast Chicken - breast meat only -  is 190 calories, with 53 calories from fat - or 28%.  Generally, Cathy and I try to keep our fat content to 30% and under, so this turned out really well.  We finished it with a nice side of corn.

Next up:  Pan roasted fish.


  1. Interesting. Roast chicken is my go-to, "I don't have to think" dinner. I salt the inside of the bird or sometimes put an onion in there. I make what is now called a "dry rub," of salt, garlic salt (or garlic powder), pepper and sweet paprika. I put the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan, figure 15-16 minutes a pound at 350 AND FORGET ABOUT IT!!! I don't baste or fuss or use any extra fat. I used to beer-can it, but that's out now because of the gluten free issue. The bird turns out great every time, the skin is crispy, the meat (even the white meat) is juicy. Oh well, I certainly know what it is like to have meals not turn out properly. I'm sometimes satisfied if its edible. When I first moved away from home, my mother gave me Craig Claiborne's "The New York Times Cookbook" as a basic "Joy of Cooking" or "Betty Crocker" for her! She figured I could read and follow a recipe. I did! Good luck with cooking adventures. Good ingredients tend to turn out good results!

    1. I hear you on the beer can chicken. I used to LOVE doing that on our grill.

      Thank you for your comments!!

  2. I mentioned during some research into Graham Kerr's substitutions in your previous post, and I think this would have been a good place for this. A good sub for butter could be using a little olive oil (for browning) and a touch of chicken stock (rich flavor). Don't be afraid to look at "old school" guys like Graham who carefully mastered the techniques of "min-max" cooking (minimizing fat, maximizing flavor). It will absolutely help keep your recipes tasty and the fat content down! Keep on cooking!

    1. Yes, I remember reading your comments. I agree with you, and I actually remember watching that show on PBS, I think it was.

      The thing to remember here is that this is a technique that Collichio uses, and I want to try to follow his technique as closely as possible, as I learn to "Think Like A Chef. I have been thinking about this, and I think what I want to do is after I get his techniques down, use some of the knowledge I have gained by watching other shows, such as seasoning under the skin, using olive oil with some chicken stock as you suggest, and so on, and recreate the dish.

      Thanks you very much for your comments! I really do appreciate them, and keep them coming!

  3. Basting doesn't work (as you said, most basting liquid isn't absorbed), so where the butter would assist (very little) in rounding out the flavor, using chicken stock in it's place would give you that rich taste.
    I don't necessarily agree that basting helps slow the drying out of poultry (based on the fact that the liquid isn't absorbed). In fact, what basting does do is make your oven temperature fluctuate every time you open the door! Then, once you close the door, the oven has to come back up to temperature.
    Here's a tip: Don't baste, keep the oven door closed, and use an instant read thermometer to avoid drying out/over cooking.

    1. Remember, the first part of the book is all about technique. I was surprised when Colicchio wanted "me" to baste the bird. In general, I agree with you but I wanted to follow his technique.
      That being said, I tried to do some research. Most people agree with you. However, there was an interesting discussion on chowhound about basting. The person who started the thread eventually roasted some chickens, with and without basting and different basting techniques. Ultimately, he said both skins were crispy though the skin on the unbasted chicken was crispier. However, he also says,There is one silver lining for fans of basting though: the side of the first bird that was basted with pan drippings was the most flavorful of them all. The meat drippings mixed with lemon juice and spices left some of its flavor behind on the skin. It had a nice and very noticeable lemony tang and a more developed savory flavor from the deeply flavored pan drippings. So at least our collective Grandma wasn’t totally off Her rocker." This may explain why the bird was so flavorful despite my underseasoning. Here is the link to the discussion if you are interested.

      Thank you very much for your comments! Please keep them coming!

  4. Fantastic conversations and comments, and congratulations on your first dish in this series. Although you are trying to follow Colicchio's techniques (as a starting point, let's say), I personally think that using your own judgment on some things that make sense to you will TRULY help you "Think Like a Chef"! For example...stop and think about the use of the substitute butter product. I would say that it's likely that Colicchio--or any other chef--wouldn't have gone that route because it's more "chemical" than fresh ingredient. Based on that, leaving the butter out altogether (if you didn't want to sub in stock or broth) would have probably been more "thinking like a chef". That's not a knock on you at's just something that you may want to think about while thinking like a chef! :)
    Good luck and keep cooking! :)