Sometimes I procrastinate.
Shocking, I know. I’m doing it now. I should be writing a story about French cooking, and preparing for a foodstyling gig tomorrow, and I have overflowing shoeboxes of papers to file beside be, and instead I’m flipping through old New York Times articles and calling it research. But it has paid off, I think: I came across this old (13 years!) Mark Bittman story about roasting an entire chicken in 30 minutes. Without use of an 800-degree pizza oven.
And the practical side of my brain convinces me that I really should make note of this now, lest I forget, or lose track of what it was that grabbed my attention in the first place, and never get the life-changing opportunity to learn how to almost flash-roast a chicken. Besides, I always love new ways to use a cast iron skillet.
In the fall of 1999, Mark Bittman tipped us off to his little secret: kick-start your chicken by roasting it in a preheated cast iron skillet. (I was so preoccupied with what might happen to computers and grocery store stock and credit card debt when the new millennium clicked over that I missed it.) Preheating the skillet along with the oven while you prep your chicken allows the bottom of the bird to begin to cook at the same time the top does. It’s one of those simple things you wonder how you never thought of.
I bought two identical chickens, each weighing in at 1.7kg. I slid a skillet into the oven and turned it on, then patted each down and rubbed them with oil, salt and pepper. Each got a few sprigs of thyme.
One went into the hot skillet, the other into a regular cake pan. (Both untrussed – to allow the heat to circulate better.) I put them in at the same time, into the same oven, and set the timer for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes they weren’t quite done; the skillet chicken was at 140F while the cake pan chicken was only 120F. I slid them back in for 15 minutes, after which the chicken in the preheated skillet was done – the other wasn’t; its juices were still running red. So it worked – roasting a chicken this way cuts your cooking time about in half. (The high temperature doesn’t hurt, either.)
Really, you don’t need a recipe for this – just to know that a preheated pan will give you a head start no matter what method you follow.
Faster Roasted Chicken from the Minimalist
1 whole chicken, 3-4 lbs.
canola or olive oil
salt and pepper
half a lemon and/or a handful of fresh herbs (optional)
Place a heavy, oven-safe (cast iron is ideal) skillet in the oven and preheat it to 450F. (Alternatively, place the skillet over the burner to heat up as you preheat the oven.)
Pat your chicken dry with paper towel, drizzle it with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. If you like, tuck half a lemon and/or some fresh herbs in the cavity.
Carefully place the chicken in the hot skillet, breast-side up, and roast for 30 minutes. Don’t open the door to check on it. After 30 minutes the juices should run clear and the joints should wiggle in their sockets; if you have a meat thermometer, it should read 155F when poked into the meatiest part of the thigh. If not, pop back into the oven for 15 minutes. Cover and let rest for 5-10 minutes (the temperature will continue to climb a few degrees). Eat.