Technique: Little Bacch’s Joe Schafer on roasting the perfect chicken

Go organic and stuff that bird with flavor
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roasted chicken
Photograph by Andrew Thomas Lee

No Atlanta bird commands as much attention (or money) as the whole roasted chicken for two at Little Bacch in the Westside Provisions District. The $52 entree is roasted whole with foie gras breadcrumbs piped beneath its skin. But even without the decadence of foie gras, a roast chicken prepared with precision can be a Michelin star–worthy feast. Here, Little Bacch executive chef Joe Schafer breaks down the basics.

1 Go organic and free-range. For birds with the most natural flavor and juiciness, start with chicken from White Oak Pastures (sold at Whole Foods) or GrassRoots Farms (sold at Freedom Farmers Market). A bird that’s 3 ¼ to 3 ½ pounds will amply serve two.

2 Remove moisture. For a crispy crust, dry the skin first. Unwrap the bird, pat it dry with paper towels, and place it uncovered on a baking sheet to chill in the refrigerator overnight (or up to three days).

3 Ensure even cooking. Convection heat allows air to circulate around the whole bird. Place your roasting pan (equipped with a rack) on a convection oven’s center rack and preheat to 375°F.

4 Stuff with flavor. Schafer seasons the cavity with about 3 Tbsp. salt then adds half a lemon and half a head of garlic, pushing them deep inside to help prevent hot air from getting trapped. Fill the rest of the cavity with fresh herbs like thyme and sage.

5 Season the skin. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, loosen the skin and gently separate from the breast all the way down to the wing joint, being careful to avoid tears. Tuck gobs of softened herbed butter under the skin of each breast. (To make the butter: Mix 2 sticks softened unsalted butter with 3 Tbsp. minced parsley, 2 Tbsp. minced chives, 1 Tbsp. minced thyme, 2 Tbsp. minced garlic, 2 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. black pepper.) Run your hands over the outside of the skin to distribute butter evenly, then brush with a little olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

6 Truss the chicken. To keep hot air from circulating in the cavity (and overcooking the breast meat), tuck the wings under, cross the legs, and tie them together tightly with twine.

7 Roast, then rest. Cook for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a thermometer placed into the leg joint reads 160°F. (Increase cooking time to an hour or longer if you’re using a conventional oven, rather than a convection.) When done, let rest for 15 minutes before carving to allow juices to settle.

Bonus recipe: Whole Roasted Chicken over Tomato-Bread Salad
Serves to 2 to 4

Herbed Butter (recipe follows)
1 (3 ¼- to 3 ½-pound) whole chicken, giblets removed
½ lemon
½ head garlic
3 Tbsp. salt, plus more for sprinkling
8 to 10 sprigs thyme
8 to 10 sprigs sage
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Tomato-Bread Salad with Brown Butter Vinaigrette, optional (recipe follows)

Make the Herbed Butter

One day ahead, pat chicken completely dry using paper towels, and set it on a sheet pan. Refrigerate to allow the skin to dry slightly. Set a roasting pan (equipped with a rack) on the center rack of oven and preheat to 375°F. Salt the cavity of the bird and stuff with lemon and garlic, then add thyme and sage.

Using the handle of a wooden spoon, loosen the skin and gently separate it from the breast all the way down to the wing joint, being careful to avoid tears. Tuck gobs of softened herbed butter under the skin of each breast. Evenly distribute butter by patting the skin with your hands. Brush with olive oil; season with salt and pepper.

Truss the chicken tightly to ensure even cooking. (Or simply cross the legs and tie them tightly together.)

Place chicken on hot roasting pan and cook for 30 to 35 minutes in a convection oven, or until a thermometer placed into the thickest part of the thigh reads 160°F. (Cooking time may increase to an hour or more in a conventional oven.)

Remove chicken from oven, and let rest for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, make the Tomato-Bread Salad. To carve, slice legs from body, then separate legs from thighs. Slice breast from body, then slice each breast half into 2 to 3 pieces.

Place bread on a serving platter, arrange chicken pieces around slices, and top with salad. Add more vinaigrette if desired.

Herbed Butter
Makes 1 cup

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3 Tbsp. minced parsley
2 Tbsp. minced chives
1 Tbsp. minced thyme leaves
2 Tbsp. finely minced garlic
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper

Stir all ingredients together in a bowl. If made ahead of time, bring to room temperature before using.

Tomato-Bread Salad with Brown Butter Vinaigrette
Makes 2 servings

3 or 4 Tbsp. Brown Butter Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
4 to 5 thick slices sourdough bread
½ to ¾ pound fresh tomatoes of various sizes, sliced into desired shapes
2 to 3 ounces raw pole beans or any tender beans available (optional)
¼ cup parsley leaves
2 to 3 Tbsp. dill fronds

Make Brown Butter Vinaigrette. Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add bread slices, one or two at a time, and toast on both sides. Assemble salad: Combine tomatoes, beans, parsley leaves, and dill fronds in a mixing bowl. Coat with a few tablespoons of dressing; season to taste with salt and pepper. Set bread slices on a platter; top with tomato mixture and chicken.

Brown Butter Vinaigrette
Makes 2 ¼ cups

¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter
¼ cup sherry vinegar
¼ cup lemon juice
1 shallot, minced
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
¾ cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, melt butter and cook until slightly browned, taking care not to burn. Set aside to cool to room temperature. In a blender, combine vinegar, lemon juice, shallot, and mustard; puree until smooth. Reduce setting to low to slowly drizzle in butter and oil. When emulsified, season with salt and pepper.

Joe Schafer
Illustration by Joel Kimmel

About chef Joe Schafer
Of course he can roast a chicken. The Griffin native grew up with a yard full of birds that eventually became dinner. Previous kitchen stints include Murphy’s, Parish, King + Duke, and Abattoir.

This article originally appeared in our October 2015 issue.

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