Roast chicken is that rare, magical dish that's at once special and utterly homely. And whether the bird is rubbed with goose fat and garnished with watercress and frites in a backstreet bistro or drenched in butter and served with doorstops of good bread in a farmhouse, it's France that holds the reputation for roasting par excellence. (It doesn't hurt that the nation has laid claim to the best chooks - the mighty Bresse - along with top-quality butter and some fairly decent wine.)
It's a dish that just about everyone has turned their hand to at least once, and usually rather more than that. For a simple dish consisting maybe three or four ingredients, roast chicken is also something that is prepared in an astonishing variety of ways. Pierre Gagnaire likes his shredded and served with salmon caviar and faisselle cream cheese (as per his recent 175 Home Recipes with a Twist). Heston Blumenthal brines his, stuffs it with thyme and a pricked lemon, butters the skin, and roasts it for three or four hours at 90C, rests it, then browns it for 10 minutes in a very hot oven to give it some colour before serving.
Ferran Adrià finely grates the zest of the lemon over the breast and legs of his bird, salts and oils it, then covers it in a freshly milled mix of dried bay leaves, rosemary, thyme and pepper. He cuts the zested lemon into pieces and sticks it in the cavity of the bird with cloves of garlic and roasts it breast-down at 220C for 25 minutes (for a 2kg bird) then turns it over and roasts it for a further 35 minutes before resting it. Nathan Myhrvold, author of Modernist Cuisine at Home, spreads the action out over days, injecting brine, blanching the bird, painting it with soy, cooking it at 95C, resting it for 45 minutes and then finishing it under the grill.
The chicken Judy Rogers roasts at Zuni Café in San Francisco is perhaps the most famous bird in North America (barring that of a certain Kentucky colonel). The trick, she writes in the indispensable Zuni Cafe Cookbook, is choosing small birds, salting them thoroughly days before cooking, drying them well, and using a wood-fired brick oven for that real roast savour.
In his much-loved Roast Chicken and Other Stories, Simon Hopkinson deploys a whopping 110gm of butter, smeared over the bird, along with the juice of a lemon, pepper and salt. Thyme, tarragon and a crushed clove of garlic go inside the chicken along with the squeezed lemon halves. It's then roasted for 15 minutes at 230C, basted and finished off with another 30 or 45 minutes at 190. Hopkinson adds that he doesn't hold with the English tradition of making gravy with the roasting fat, flour and vegetable cooking-water. "With this roasting method, what you end up with in the tin is an amalgamation of butter, lemon juice and chicken juices. That's all. It is a perfect homogenisation of fats and liquids. All it needs is a light whisk or a stir, and you have the most wonderful 'gravy' imaginable."
And back in the older school, Elizabeth David is all about a moderately hot (200C) oven, a fair bit of butter, salt and tarragon inside the bird, a bit more butter on the skin, and then roasting it on its side, adding more butter as you go. Over the five pages he devotes to poulet fendu farci au four in the questionably named Simple French Cooking, Richard Olney splits the bird, flattens it out, spreads a stuffing of fresh cheese, marjoram, egg, onion, zucchini and parmesan under the skin, starts it in a hot oven for 10 minutes, then takes it down a notch for the remaining hour.
Joël Robuchon cooks his grandmother's recipe, roasting the bird with rosemary, thyme and halved heads of garlic, starting with its sides first, finishing breast-up, then resting it with the tail in the air. The secret to the chicken at the famed/infamous L'Ami Louis, meanwhile, is that it's rubbed down with a good tablespoon of duck or goose fat before it goes into a hot oven, and it's trussed with its liver, heart and gizzards. (That it's served with a sauce made with the pan juices and four tablespoons of butter, deglazed with a little water, probably doesn't hurt either.)
We asked quite a few notable chefs, French-born or otherwise, in Australia and out, how they roast chicken at home, and we got some pretty interesting responses. Here are some of the best.
René Redzepi, Noma, Copenhagen
Chicken? Oh boy! Now you've hit my soft spot. Chicken is one of those foods that I treasure the most. My love affair began back in Macedonia when I was young. I was playing around with my cousins in the dusty old yard when we were suddenly startled by a loud banging at the old wooden gate. My aunt rushed over to open it, and there stood another uncle and his family, surprising us with a visit. Immediately the whole house came to life: visits such as these were a special occasion and rare. I remember that I had an excitement in my belly because I knew a celebratory feast was imminent.
"Go find a couple of fat chickens," my aunt told my old, limping uncle. All of us youngsters proceeded to watch him running around, trying to catch the birds. When he finally did, I was mesmerised by the surrender in their eyes as he lifted the axe and chopped their heads off. He released them and they ran around headless, blood squirting. It was fun trying to catch them, but the best part was getting blood all over ourselves.
We all sat in the kitchen watching the birds being plucked and rubbed in salt and olive oil before being chucked in the wood-fired oven in a pan of rice and spices, ready to soak up all the delicious juices. I watched intently as the chickens cooked, their skins changing from pale yellow to golden brown. My mouth still waters as I remember the moment that they were carried to the table; the steam that rose as my uncle pulled one of the chicken legs from the carcass; the sound of the skin crackling; and, of course, the smell of roasting fireplace that had engulfed the whole house. It was so rare for us to have chicken; it only happened on those very chance occurrences. The only bad thing was that the next morning there wouldn't be enough eggs for all of us.
Now, almost every Sunday, I have chicken at home with my family. We have a butcher in town that sells big birds - between 2.2 and 3 kilos. I get them four or five days in advance and hang them in my fridge to dry their skin and to intensify the flavour - this really helps for those of us who have a fetish for crisp chicken skin, and the taste becomes a lot better. I rub the bird in olive oil and salt, just as my family used to do, and then my wife stuffs it with citrus - something from her own upbringing in France. Unfortunately, we live in a Copenhagen apartment, far removed from the pleasures of a wood-fired oven, so we simply turn the heat to 200C-225C and roast it till it's golden brown.
I'm not a fan of adding spices to the skin; I want the pure flavour of the bird. For the same reason, the garnishes are simple and might include steamed spinach and cooked grains. The star of the meal remains the bird. Don't mess with the chicken!
Matt Wilkinson, Pope Joan, Melbourne
Roast chicken? Don't let my mum anywhere near the bloody thing, for starters. Stuff a number-18 bird up the cavity with a lemon, a head of garlic cut in half and a bunch of tarragon or thyme. Put the bird on its back in a preheated oven on 220C for 35 minutes, take it out of the oven, add two big slabs of butter onto the skin, cut the legs off, salt and pepper them, then put it back in the oven for another 25 or 35 minutes, basting the bird every five or 10 minutes. A roast chicken's bones should always be kept to make a delicious brown chicken stock - or, my personal favourite, an Asian-style ginger broth, "English pho-style". It's the bomb - a little bit Andrew McConnell a little bit Tony Tan, a little bit Christine Manfield. Yes, one f*ed-up mother of a soup, yet deliciously tasty. Want the recipe?
Mike Eggert, Pinbone, Sydney
I have two favourites. If I'm out to impress, I stuff the bird under the skin of the breast with butter, softened leeks, crushed hazelnuts and tarragon, then put it in a roasting dish and pour a bottle of vin jaune over it, cover it with foil and roast it for about an hour, pulling the foil off in the last half-hour to brown it. I don't let the wine evaporate completely, adding water or chicken stock to maintain a sauce.
Then there's my go-to quick 'n' easy recipe.
I always have a jar of sweated diced shallots and salted kombu in the fridge (old habits from Duke die hard). I mash that through some butter, ricotta, sour cream or yoghurt - whatever I have around.
I rub the bird with soy, stuff some of the shallot and kombu mash under the skin and smother the rest all over the outside of the bird. I sit it on some old bread, cabbage, cauliflower or broccoli - anything that's lying around. Lemon chunks, anything. Roast for about an hour 20, then rest, carve and eat.
Mark Best, Marque, Sydney; Pei Modern, Melbourne
At home I chuck it in the AEG Pro Combi steam oven with a bit of thyme, olive oil, salt and pepper and push the chicken picture. At Pei Modern we hang it by its legs on a piece of string over the char-grill and it cooks to perfection in two hours.
Sat Bains, Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham
I normally buy one ready-cooked from the supermarket - I haven't got such a posh oven as Mark! I'm working on it, though. Ha ha ha.
Dan Hong, Mr Wong, Sydney
I butterfly the whole bird and marinate it overnight in a mixture of Maggi seasoning, 7-Up (or any lemonade) and garlic, then roast it in a hot oven, constantly basting with the marinade until it's nicely caramelised. You can also reduce the marinade to a glaze and spoon it over the chicken as a sauce.
Neil Perry, Rockpool, Sydney
I cook chicken two ways. Usually I love to rôtisserie it on the barbecue. I think rôtisserie is the best method, because the skin is great and the rest is tender and juicy. You can do it in the oven that way, too - most ovens these days have a rôtisserie built in. I usually stuff the bird with cut lemons and herbs such as thyme and parsley, and rub it with olive oil and lots of sea salt. That's it for three out of four chickens I roast, but my other approach, when I'm using the oven, is to split the bird down the back and push it flat, removing the wing tips.
I rub it with salt and olive oil and lay it on an oiled bed of things like lemon, sliced fennel and herbs.
I roast it at 200C for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 140C and cook it for about 30 minutes more for a big bird, then let it rest. If the colour isn't great I usually turn on the grill bars in the oven and colour the bird at the end. Rest, cut and spoon with the juices and some fresh olive oil, a drizzle of lemon juice and a really good grind of pepper. The other way is to mix spices - chilli powder, cumin, coriander, fennel, turmeric - and rub the bird for a little more flavour. If you want to make the spice blend wet, blend it with garlic, oil and sea salt.
Tony Tan, Unlimited Cuisine Company, Melbourne
I use my mum's recipe. She uses English mustard, Worcestershire sauce, light soy, salt and pepper, four or five cloves of garlic and a mixture of sunflower oil and butter. Leave it to marinate for half an hour. We roast the chook on high, say 220C, for about 20 minutes, then we turn the bird over, reduce the oven to 180C and roast it for another 40 or 50 minutes or until the juices run clear, basting every 20 minutes or so. Another favourite is mashing cloves of garlic with salt and mixing in a teaspoon each of five-spice, chopped ginger and white pepper. I also rub a couple of teaspoons of honey all over the bird and the cavity, then leave it to marinate for half an hour, drizzle it with sunflower oil and a couple of drops of sesame oil and proceed to bake as above.
Phil Howard, The Square, London
I like to leave the chicken plain and simple and enjoy the naturally delicious flavour of the bird itself. Rule number one: buy an organic or truly free-range chicken. Rule number two: let the bird come to room temperature for a couple of hours before roasting. Put the bird in the roasting tray, coat it with a layer of oil, season it generously with salt and paper and roast for 15 minutes in a very hot oven (200-220C) and then turn it down to about 140C. If the bird is trussed the legs will simply not cook at the same speed as the breast, so untruss when you turn the oven down and prise the legs away from the body so the heat can get to the leg meat. Rule number 3: let the bird rest for at least 20 minutes before carving.
Daniel Southern, Comme, Melbourne
Roast chicken is a dinner (and sometimes lunch) of choice in our house and is a particular favourite of my fussy four-year-old son. Season the chicken all over with good-quality flaked salt and freshly ground white pepper. Put a cut bulb of garlic, half a bunch of thyme, eight bay leaves and about 50gm of butter in the cavity, then sear the bird all over in a hot pan with vegetable oil until it's light-golden, then put it into a hot oven until it's just cooked. At this point I normally remove all the meat, keeping it warm, then chop up all the bones, stick them in a pot, add some chicken stock or water and make a little gravy - but I don't skim.
Chui Lee Luk, Chow Eating House, Sydney
I like crushing garlic to a paste under a knife with salt and mixing some spices like ground clove, ground ginger, pepper and cayenne, perhaps, into> the purée and then combining it with softened butter to put under the skin of the bird before roasting it in a hot oven. Or else, steeping the bird in water scented with onion, bay, thyme and garlic until it's just a bit underdone, then glazing with a mixture of honey or maltose, some Sherry vinegar and Cognac and finishing it in a very hot oven to colour. That's sort of roasting, right?
Harold McGee, Author
I like to crank the oven all the way up until it's good and hot, then put the bird (kept naked in the fridge for eight hours or more to dry out the skin) in a shallow baking pan on a vertical holder, breast-end up, with some water in the pan to prevent the drippings from burning.
Dan Hunter, Brae, Birregurra
I probably roast a chook once a week, and I think Milawa free-range is a pretty bloody good option.
I don't truss; I dislocate (but don't remove) the legs so they lay flat - this helps the thighs cook more evenly and in time with the breasts. Up the bum goes a bit of garlic, a good amount of thyme and half a lemon. When there's no thyme, I use parsley and fennel tops. Coat all the skin with softened butter, a little olive oil and a good amount of salt.
For home I'll just go high heat, 200C-ish, all the way. Takes around 45 minutes if it goes in at room temperature; if it's straight from the fridge it can take up to an hour and 10 minutes. A 1.6kg chook is enough for two and a bit for a two-year-old, with the carcass for a stock and heaps of meat for a sanga or two the next day. If I roast vegies I do them in a separate tray so the heat can get to the chook; in the same tray they steam too much and stop the chook from crisping up. Coleslaw and pan-fried spuds finished with roughly chopped parsley would be my garnish of choice.
Sean McConnell, Moan & Green Grout, Canberra
When I do a chook at home, I like to remove the legs and confit them or braise them in the oven, and roast the crown over coals on the barbecue.
Scott Pickett, Saint Crispin, Melbourne
I make a herb and citrus butter, keeping a small amount aside to fill the cavity of the chicken. Clean the inside of the chicken, removing any remaining innards and the wishbone, and brine it in a 10 per cent salt solution for half an hour, then remove it from the brine and rinse it under cold water. I gently run my fingers between the skin of the chicken and the flesh, being careful not to break the skin, then gently place the herb and citrus butter under the skin, ensuring I get right around to the legs and the thighs. I chop an orange, a lemon and a lime into quarters and add half of each, plus some garlic and herbs to fill the cavity completely. I then truss the chicken using butcher's string and sit it on an oven rack. I rub it with good olive oil, season with sea salt and pepper and roast in a preheated oven at 180C until it's golden brown. When the skin has coloured nicely, I lower the temperature to 120C and slow roast it for a further 20 or 30 minutes, then remove it from the oven, rest it for 15 minutes, carve and serve. I normally serve this with roast potatoes and glazed baby carrots.
Gerald Diffey, Gerald's Bar, Melbourne
Gerald's jerk chicken: first catch your baby chickens. Cut out the spines and butterfly them, marinate them overnight in your jerk paste, sear them well in a pan with butter and oil or duck fat, then roast them at 180C for 12 minutes, rest, and eat with your fingers with sweetcorn, lime mayonnaise and an iced-cold beer.
To make the jerk mix, take Scotch bonnets, chipotles, cinnamon, thyme, allspice, molasses, olive oil, lime juice, sea salt, black pepper and bay leaves and whiz them all up to a paste. (Walkerswood jerk paste from Boss Man Food is the best prepared jerk.) Add fresh coriander and lime juice to serve. Best paired with Mildura Brewery's Stefano's pilsner, riesling from Crawford River or Hochkirch, or Sutton Grange rosé.
Martin Benn, Sepia, Sydney
Holmbrae corn-fed chicken is absolutely the most delicious by far, and the only chicken I use. I remove the neck and first wing joint, and put them in a roasting pan, then I combine soft unsalted butter with umeboshi paste and fresh lemon zest, push the butter between the skin and the breast and leave it to sit at room temperature for half an hour while I bring the oven to 160C. I chop some shallots roughly and add them to the pan with the wings and neck, along with whole garlic cloves, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns and the zested lemon and then I pour in half a bottle of riesling.
I cut another lemon into pieces and mix it with salt, chopped thyme and garlic and stick it in the chicken. I oil the bird, season it heavily with salt and pepper and sit it on top of the lemon, shallot and wine mixture in the roasting pan and cover the lot with foil. I roast it for 40 minutes, take the pan out of the oven and turn it up to 180C, baste the bird, then put it back uncovered to cook for another 30 or 35 minutes, basting every 10 minutes.
I rest the bird out of the oven covered with foil for at least 20 minutes, then tip the bird so that any juices inside pour into the tray, put the bird aside on a plate and cover it again to keep it warm until I'm ready to serve.
I take the juices and everything from the roasting tray and pass them through a fine strainer or chinois, pressing down on the solids to extract as much juice as possible. I reduce these over medium heat on the stove, tasting to make sure the sauce doesn't get too salty or over-reduce, whisk in two tablespoons of butter and then it's ready to go. I like to serve the chicken with potatoes roasted in chicken fat and a simple rocket salad.
Ross Lusted, The Bridge Room, Sydney
I have a French friend, Luc, who lives in Toulouse, where he has a foie gras and truffle business. Luc lived in Asia for a long time and when I visited him in Toulouse he roasted a chicken that was amazing. Were the great colour and flavour from the open fire? Was it from the garden-reared chicken, fed on kitchen scraps? Was it just because he was French? None of the above, he explained, and produced a bottle of kecap manis from the pantry - a little secret he picked up in Asia.
I use a free-range 2kg bird, not corn-fed because I prefer the meat to taste clean, like chicken, grass and grain. I pat it dry and rub it all over with the kecap manis and let it marinate, covered, overnight in the fridge. The next day I fill the cavity of the bird with garlic, shallots, lemon wedges, two knobs of butter and a good-sized branch of dried wild Greek oregano. I tuck under the wings and tie the legs together, drizzle it with a little oil and set it in a heavy-based roasting pan.
If you're in France, now you'd stoke your open hearth and slide the roasting tray close to the fire, pour a glass of wine, spread a little lardo on toasted bread and watch your chicken slowly become golden as you move it around the hearth, cooking the bird evenly for about an hour. Otherwise you could roast it in an oven at 180C for about 40 minutes, letting it rest for at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, reduce about a cup of verjuice to a light syrup in a heavy-based saucepan, add all the cooking juices from the cavity of the chicken, season with a little salt and stir in a small knob of butter. Carve the chicken, lay it on a warm serving dish and pour the sauce over the meat. I'd serve this with spinach sautéed in a little rendered crisp guanciale, potato purée, maybe a glass of Château Haut-Brion to get it all down. I really need to cook this again soon - or find my way to Toulouse in January again.
Anthony Weyand, C'est Bon, Brisbane
When you're cooking a bird at home, you start it in a hot oven for the first 30 minutes and then put the temperature down to finish it, but all too often the breasts end up dry and the legs are sometimes good, sometimes bloody around the bones. What I do instead is cut the raw chicken in four (I keep the bones for a stock, jus or sauce) and pan-fry the pieces until I get a nice colour on the skin.
I then put them on a grill pan, put the grill pan into a regular roasting pan and cook them at 70C. The breasts are done in an hour, the legs in two, and the meat stays tender and soft. I put them under a hot grill for two minutes before I serve them. To the eye, the carved pieces look the same, but they're much better in the mouth.
Brigitte Hafner, Gertrude Street Enoteca, Melbourne
I mostly stick with the classics when I roast chicken: I like to make a paste with organic butter, a splash of extra-virgin olive oil, salt flakes, chopped tarragon or, depending on the season, sage and garlic. I rub that into and under the skin, truss the chicken and always baste a few times during the cooking. Alternatively, if I'm feeling lazy, I'll just turn the chicken over halfway through and cook it breast-down, which keeps the breast nice and juicy. I'll cook it until it's only just done (that is, until the juices at the leg are still slightly rosy), then always rest covered for 15 minutes before serving. In the meantime I pour out the juices, ladle off the fat, then add a squeeze of lemon to make the jus for the chicken. I always use the best free-range chicken I can get my hands on - one of my favourites is Saskia Beer.
Ben Milgate and Elvis Abrahanowicz, Porteño, Sydney
We don't really roast chicken at home but we do barbecue. We open the bird up, brush the bone side with olive oil, then put that side down over a charcoal grill at medium heat. We let it cook about three-quarters of the way through (about half an hour for a 1.2kg bird), then we brush the skin side with oil and flip it. We squeeze half a lemon over the bone side that's now facing up and let it grill for another 15 minutes. Rest it off the grill for five minutes, salt and lemon the skin side and eat.
Lachlan Colwill, Hentley Farm, Barossa Valley
For me, the best and only way to roast chicken at home is the beer-can chicken method. It's very simple to do: you season the whole chicken with smoked paprika and salt, insert an open can of beer (Melbourne Bitter is my pick) in the chicken's arse, then stand the chicken upright in a baking pan, stick it in the oven and roast. Comes out moist and delish every time.
Jacob Kenedy, Bocca di Lupo, London
We take a chicken, normally a 1.5kg bird for three people (cook two birds for four people, though; you might be hungry and leftovers are no bad thing if they happen). We rub it inside and out with salt, stuff it with four or five cloves of garlic (skin on, halved), a few sprigs of thyme, a stick or two of celery in finger-length chunks and a very large lemon in thick pinwheel slices. We put the chicken breast-side down in a roasting pan not much larger than the bird, drizzle it with olive oil and slightly encourage a slice or two of lemon to fall out of the cavity, so it will caramelise in the pan. I have the oven preheated to maximum, and cook it for 25 minutes or until the skin on top is browned, then turn it over (breast-side up) and roast for a further 25 minutes or until it's well browned. My mum is less daring than I am and slightly overcooks her birds. Take my word that my timings will do unless your oven is pathetic. In any event, remove the chicken, cover it loosely with foil and rest for 15 or 20 minutes - after resting, check between leg and carcass that it is indeed cooked to your liking. Up-end the bird for a moment so all the lemony thymey juices run from the cavity into the pan, and transfer the chicken to a board to carve it.
I always pick at the flesh while I carve. Any especially crisp bits of skin, the oysters, and fragments of meat that seem too juicy to share disappear while I'm dismembering our roast.
We always serve it with basmati rice (cooked in just the right amount of water with salt and butter and nothing else), and broccoli (boiled in salty water until it almost, but not quite, disintegrates, then well drained and doused in as much extra-virgin olive oil as it can absorb - which, incidentally, is quite a lot. The pan juices of the chicken (excess fat removed) get poured over the rice.
Leftovers are unlikely, but if they do happen I slice them thinly (skin on) the next day to make a sandwich, with cos lettuce leaves and copious amounts of horseradish sauce between two slices of dense and crumbly brown bread and salted butter. Either that, or I cut the chicken into chunks and mix it with apple, celery and walnuts and dress with mayonnaise (Hellmann's finest) to make a retro, Waldorf-esque salad, like my mum's old friend and mentor Hilde Halpern used to make.
Nic Poelaert, Brooks, Melbourne
At home I cook my chicken in a 90C oven for two hours; I'm lucky enough to have a rôtisserie in my oven, which can make a difference in the browning of the skin in the last part of the cooking process. When the chicken is cooked, I simply brush the skin with melted butter, garlic, fresh herbs and leave it under the grill for five minutes until it's brown and crisp.
Robert Molines, Bistro Molines, Hunter Valley
I prefer a nice plump chicken from a local farm. I put a little bit of butter under the breast skin, some garlic cloves inside the bird with some lemon wedges. I rub coarse salt, a touch of pepper, some lemon wedges and rosemary into incisions I cut into the thighs, then I cover the breast with slices of bacon. I place the chicken in a baking pan lined with slices of potato, pour in a little wine, add some more garlic cloves, rosemary, salt and pepper, a knob of butter and bake it in an oven at 170C.
I eat this with some fresh beans, a crisp salad of cos and French Dijon vinaigrette, a baguette and an unlimited amount of red Burgundy.
Peter Sheppard, Caveau, Wollongong
When I'm doing a roast chook I always start with a free-range bird and some locally grown organic vegies. Baby root vegetables are fantastic as an accompaniment for a roast.
I line a roasting pan with all the veg - baby fennel, baby kohlrabi, turnips, parsnips, carrots and garlic. This not only cooks the vegetables in the tasty juices of the chicken but also makes dinner a one-pot event.
I like to make a simple stuffing with chicken livers, bread and herbs to fill the cavity of the chook (make sure you remove the giblets first - they're essential for the sauce, and the plastic bag they come in tastes horrible). I also cut the wing tips off so they don't burn, and I keep them for the sauce. I mix some garlic chives and tarragon into a knob of butter and push half under the skin of each breast. Then I spin the bird around so I'm looking at its bottom. I make an incision in the skin two-thirds of the way up the left side of the opening and push the right leg knuckle through, then I repeat this on the other side with the cut two-thirds of the way down.
This is easier than trussing, and it helps if you're like me and always forget to bring string home.
When the bird is ready so are the vegetables; remove them all from the roasting tray so you can make the sauce. Brown the giblets, deglaze with wine and monté [emulsify] with a little butter. Finish the sauce with some chopped tarragon and any other remaining herbs. Oh, and one other thing to remember - it doesn't matter how many roast potatoes you make, there's still never enough.
Teage Ezard, Ezard, Melbourne
The method I prefer to roast a chicken is one we use at the restaurants. We "red roast" the chicken, steeping and poaching the whole organic bird in a 10-year-old master stock, hanging it to dry for a day, then jointing it and flash-frying it in hot oil until it's crisp. The result is crisp skin and an aromatic and flavoursome dish that can be accompanied with Asian-inspired salads, sauces and dressings.
Khan Danis, Cipro, Sydney
At home I generally light up some wood or charcoal in the Weber and barbecue our dinner like we do at Cipro, with lots of chilli and black pepper. If I'm cooking indoors, my favourite recipe is from the last River Café book, stuffing the bird with olives, tomato, garlic and parsley. At our place it's always served with some sort of potato dish, like a straw-potato cake, and a simple salad or some braised seasonal vegetables.
Karl Firla, Oscillate Wildly, Sydney
I like to use the corn-fed Holmbrae chickens. I brine the chicken for about 12 hours in a rather aromatic brine, then roast it in a cast-iron baking dish with celeriac and herbs, basting throughout the initial cooking process.
Patrice Repellin, Koots Salle à Manger, Melbourne
First we rub a good-quality free-range chicken with a good seasoning of fresh thyme, rosemary, lemon, garlic and onion. I roast it on a tray with olive oil and a bit of butter under the skin at 190C until it's just cooked through and golden. It's important to then rest it for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Et voilà.
Jacques Reymond, Jacques Reymond, Melbourne
Remove the chicken from the fridge an hour before cooking to get it to room temperature. Make sure you close the cavity with toothpicks or by sewing up the gap to retain all the juices and so that no heat gets in. Rub the bird lightly, like a quick small massage, including the legs, then squash the legs against the breast and season with black pepper and Maldon salt flakes. Roast in a preheated oven at 180C for 45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked, then rest for 10 minutes prior to serving.
Damon Wise, Lafayette, New York
To make Lafayette's rôtisserie chicken at home brine the bird for an hour (our birds are about 1.4kg each), pat it dry, and season it inside and out with salt and pepper. Take your vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, onions, green olives, rosemary) and put them in the bottom of a roasting pan with some salt, pepper and olive oil. Put the bird on a roasting rack so the air flows all around it, like inside our rôtisserie oven, and roast it in the oven, uncovered, until the breast meat is just done. While the bird is roasting, brush it with butter. Pick off all of the thigh meat and put it into the roasting pan with the vegetables. While the breasts rest (very important!) make a sauce right in the pan with the chicken drippings, vegetables and thigh meat, some chicken stock and a little Banyuls vinegar.
O Tama Carey, Berta, Sydney
I make a butter with fresh chilli and lemon to stuff under the skin, stick half a lemon, some rosemary and some onion wedges in the cavity, cook it low and slow (perhaps even covered), then hot, hot, hot at the end.
Daniel Pepperell, 10 William Street, Sydney
Peroni can and Old Bay chicken: drink half a can of Peroni beer. Season a chicken thoroughly with Old Bay spice mix and rub it with olive oil. Sit the chicken upright on the half-filled can of beer.
Using a bird that weighs 1.6kg, roast it in the oven for an hour and 40 minutes at 180C. Serve the chicken with bomba Calabrese and a side of roast potatoes with salted anchovy.
Daniel Puskas, Sixpenny, Sydney
I roast the chicken on the Weber, but I do it quite slow. I lay a few coals on the left and right and a tray full of water in between. The chicken goes above that on another tray. I brush the chicken with a mix of olive oil, thyme, rosemary, tarragon and garlic every half hour. With the lid on and the vents open all the way, it takes about two and a half to three hours, and I serve it with iceberg lettuce with olive oil, lemon and parsley.
Geraud Fabre, France-Soir, Melbourne
The most important things about chicken are the breed, the diet and the size. At the restaurant we use duck fat to sear the chicken on the skin side, after seasoning of course. Then we turn it upside down and roast it in a hot oven for about 20 minutes. I baste the chook four or five times during the process. Rest and enjoy with a bottle of l'Hermitage Blanc or Coteaux du Languedoc.
One learns something new every day and thanks to Heston Blumenthal and his program How to Cook Like Heston, I've learned the best roast chicken recipe ever, and it's the only one I cook now. Dare I say it, I've made a few changes to the recipe (sorry, Heston) to suit my needs. I have only a very small fridge with no space for a pot to fit five litres of water plus a chicken, and I cook with less salt nowadays, so I put a 1.5kg chicken in a freezer bag with a litre of water and one and a half tablespoons of salt (Heston recommends 300gm of salt with his five litres). The next day I take the chicken, still in the bag, out of the fridge for a few hours to come to room temperature, then take it out of the bag and pat it dry. I put a halved lemon into the cavity with some thyme, then roast it at 90C for two and a half, maybe three hours, basting it with butter as I go. Heston recommends cooking the chicken until a thermometer stuck in the thickest part of the bird reads 60C, but I'm still a bit of a wimp when I see pink near the bones, so I cook it to 65C (if you want to follow safety guidelines, your chicken should reach 75C in the thickest part). I let it rest out of the oven for up to an hour, then turn the heat up to 250C (my oven doesn't go higher), brown the chicken breast-down for five minutes, then turn and brown it breast-up for another 10 minutes or so. I squeeze over the juice of the lemon from the cavity, transfer the chicken to a platter, make a sauce with some wine, chicken stock and more herbs, and serve.
Ashley Palmer-Watts, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London
I stuff the cavity with a few cloves of garlic, rosemary and thyme before roasting it. The carcass then makes the stock. Reduce this stock with the wings and juices from the roasting tray to make the gravy. A good gravy can make or break a roast chicken.
Philip Johnson, E'cco, Brisbane
You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
This rule applies to our cooking ingredients.
For my perfect roast chicken, I look for an organic bird, those that have grown naturally to a lovely size - 1.3kg to 1.4kg. Instead of making a stuffing, I prefer to chop a whole lemon, a small onion and a few cloves of garlic, jumble them all together with some fresh thyme and place them in the cavity. I roughly chop root vegetables and place them in the centre of the roasting dish and nestle the chicken on top. After carefully lifting the skin off the chicken breast, I rub some softened butter underneath, then rub a little olive oil on top before seasoning well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
I like to roast the chicken in a 170C oven for close to an hour. I allow a little resting time before tackling it with a sharp carving knife. Be sure to pinch the best crisp skin before anyone else gets a chance.
Ben Greeno, Momofuku Seiobo, Sydney
We soak a couple of sheets of kombu in water, then when they're soft, we roll them up and shove them inside the chicken. We put seaweed butter under the skin, then cook it at 160C for 10 minutes, then turn it down to 120C for around an hour. We make our seaweed butter by blitzing dried nori and then beating it together with dried salted kombu and butter. It's also good on crumpets.
Clare Smyth, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, London
The way I do mine at home is on a lidded barbecue over charcoal (a Big Green Egg in my case). I put it on a beer can chicken-stand and baste it with oregano, garlic and olive oil as it cooks. You get lovely crisp skin, a smoky flavour and it stays juicy.
I have an English Canon rôtisserie. It was one of the best pieces of cooking gear ever, with the heat source being gas and overhead. The rôtisserie is now in storage, hence my drifting into the past tense. A tray below collected the juices and I used white wine and chicken jus to baste. The breast was filled with tarragon butter between the skin and flesh, then spit-roasted and flamed with Madeira. All the juices were served in a fat-lean sauce boat, and my garnishes of choice were saffron rice pilaf and a delicious leaf salad. It was the best roast chook. Victor Churchill's rôtisserie is designed in the same way.
For those without a rôtisserie, use tarragon butter, as above, and roast on a rack for 20 minutes on each side, then another 20 with the breast up. Rest in a bowl, breast-tip pointing down to let the juices flow to the driest part of the bird.
Some tips: remove bird from its wrapping several hours before, or better still overnight, and remove it from the fridge up to an hour ahead.
Buy the best chook you can afford - nothing beats quality. Holmbrae, Barossa and Burrawong are good.
Daniel Clifford, Midsummer House, Cambridge
I use butter and garlic under the skin of the chicken to add flavour and keep it tender. I roast the chicken at 220C for 10 minutes to crisp the skin, then at 180C until the chicken reaches 62C on the probe. I always rest it for 10 minutes before carving.
Ryan Edwards, Appellation, Barossa Valley
The quality of the chicken is most important: the happier the chicken was in life, the better it will taste, so look for free-range, ethically grown, well-fed chickens. Most areas have them. Then treat them simply and with respect. Tie a little flavoursome bundle of herbs together - bay leaves, lemon thyme, rosemary or whatever is ready in the garden - then place this in the cavity with a slice of lemon. Season the chicken well and rub it with good olive oil and a little butter. Roast it gently at 140C until it's cooked but still moist. Let it rest while you increase the temperature to high before putting it back in for five to 10 minutes to make that crisp roast chicken skin that everyone adores.
Dave Verheul, The Town Mouse, Melbourne
Cooking at home I like to keep it pretty simple.
My favourite way of roasting a chicken is to start with as good a chicken as you can find; I really like Saskia Beer's free-range corn-fed birds, about 1.6kg. Make a flavoured butter with loads of lime zest, garlic and smoked chipotle chilli powder. Starting from the neck-end, gently stuff some underneath the skin, place slices of lime and garlic into the cavity and roast at 200C for an hour and 15 minutes, giving it few bastes every now and again. Serve with roast corn and eggplant.
Mat Lindsay, Ester, Sydney
First, build a brick oven. Now take the backbone out of the chicken and flatten the bird out. Stuff butter flavoured with lemon, confit garlic and almond meal under the skin. Season the skin with salt and black pepper. Start the cooking at 220C, skin-side down until it's nice and brown, then flip the chook over and finish skin-side up at 180C.
Rest it in the pan and use the juices as the sauce. Some fresh sourdough, salad and that's all I need.
Bruno Loubet, Bistrot Bruno Loubet, London
I brush a free-range chicken with butter and season it with salt and pepper. Inside the bird I place a lemon cut into four, 16 garlic cloves and some celery salt. I place the chicken on a roasting tray in the oven at 165C for 30 minutes, then 190C for another 30 minutes and rest it for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a frying pan I sauté 300gm of chicken livers, then add the juices of the garlic and the lemon from the inside of the chicken. I crush this mix well with a fork and spread it on toast to serve with the chicken.
Joseph Abboud, Rumi, Melbourne
The way I do roast chicken is butterflied or spatchcocked or whatever the term du jour is: bone side-down in a roasting tray (on some potatoes if you like), roasted slow under foil for most the way. The most delicious part is just before it finishes: you pour over lemon juice and pounded garlic.
Brent Savage, Monopole, Sydney
I have two main styles when I roast chicken at home. In either case I make sure I buy the freshest organic chicken I can find, and remove the chicken from the packet and pat it dry with kitchen paper before leaving it uncovered in the fridge while preparing the rest of the roast, or even a few hours prior to cooking, to help achieve a crisp skin. Anyway, the first method is to stuff the chicken cavity with coarsely chopped lemon, shallots, garlic and basil, mint and parsley. I rub the chicken skin generously with garlic oil salt and pepper, scatter some thyme over the top and put it into a 170C oven. I baste often, until the skin is golden and crisp.
Simon Rogan, L'Enclume, Cumbria
The trick is to always buy free-range or organic chicken, rub it with lots of salt and drizzle it with rapeseed [canola] oil and cook it at a high heat to make the skin crisp.
Ah roast chicken - my family's all-time favourite dinner. I can't improve on the recipe I've published in The Cook's Companion. It relies on a free-range chicken, butter, lemon, garlic and herbs. I have cooked this dish probably hundreds of times, both here in Australia and in France using a Bresse chicken. Our free-range birds have excellent flavour, but it's quite different to the more muscular, almost gamy poulets de Bresse.
David Thompson, Nahm, Bangkok
Alas there is no roast chicken at my place, but there are grilled chickens galore. They're cut down the breast, flattened then marinated in lemongrass, garlic and salt and pepper before being slowly grilled over charcoal. They are an Isaan speciality that is now found on almost every street in Thailand.
Grant Achatz, Alinea, Chicago
We cook a lot of chicken at home for my two boys and as you can imagine, they love fire. So typically what we do is a rub of salt and black pepper inside and out and stuff the cavity with lemon, rosemary, thyme and garlic. Then we make a garlic and herb butter (rosemary, thyme, garlic, sage, salt and pepper) and they have a ball stuffing that under the skin of the bird (breasts and legs). Now comes the fire: in the colder months we roast the chicken in the fireplace that we have in the living room of my house and in the summer months we fire up a simple Weber grill that is burning firewood (no briquettes or fake wood - the real deal).
We start it on the hot spots of the fire and then pull it back and let it go slow, turning and flipping it on each side and on the breasts often. We also throw in some greener wood to seed the fire with some smoke periodically throughout the cooking process.
Remi Bancal, Remi de Provence, Hobart
In Tasmania I use Nichols chicken. What I do is prepare the chicken like you would normally, cutting the wings and the Marylands at the end, then I make sure it's clean and add salt, pepper and thyme. Under the skin I put my fingers under the breast and add butter up to the leg through the opening of the neck. I add a nice coating of salt and pepper to the skin, then it goes into the oven at a fairly low temperature, probably around 120-130C, for around thirty on minutes each side. Then I put him on his back and roast it for another 20 minutes at a high temperature to get it crisp. Voilà. Wine-wise, if I had my way I would say a Chambolle-Musigny.
Duncan Welgemoed, Bistro Dom, Adelaide
I wash and pat dry the bird, setting it aside to come up to room temperature. Then in a blender I blitz garlic cloves, butter, parsley, thyme, lemon zest, a few turns of pepper and a sprinkle of sea salt. I then make an incision at the base of the breast to open up the skin, peel the skin back and cover the breasts with a quarter of the herbed butter, recovering the breasts with its skin and smoothing the bird with the remaining butter. I start a fire in the Weber and when the coals are ashed over, place the lid on top to build up the internal temperature, making sure the vents are open. I place the chicken in the centre of the BBQ, close the lid and cook for 45 to 50 mins or until the breasts are firm, inner thighs are white and juices are running clear -basting the bird every 15 minutes with the melted butter to keep it moist. For the final 10mins of cooking, I scatter the smoke chips over the coals and gently smoke, before resting the chicken for at least 15 minutes. I reserve the juices from resting, add a squeeze of lemon juice, season and use that to dress the chicken once carved. For the plat de résistance, finish with the reserved parsley heads and serve with potato salad with plenty of crisp speck and blue cheese.