The Best Roast Chicken Ever?

Photo: Chris Ellenbogen.

Is the pinnacle of poultry cookery a whole roasted chicken? If the statement is true, I've found a revelation in roasting the humble bird...well for now anyway. With no shortage of ways to cook chicken, the simple roasted version has always been my favorite and yet the most difficult to get consistent results. In fact, for years, I've continued to alter my preparations, methods, and seasonings in hopes of creating my version of pure culinary bliss.

Finally, I discovered a way to get my ideal results consistently. The secret: Give your bird a coating of chicken base before roasting. Yes, that chicken base. The kind that comes in jars and is used in soups, stews, and broths.

My new recipe was inspired by a story our Test Kitchen director, Robby Melvin, told about a chicken he tasted made by a former colleague of his who simply heavily coated a chicken with a seemingly obsessive amount of chicken base and roasted it. The result was said to be a bird with juicy, succulent meat and robust flavor he described as "chickeny." I was intrigued by the idea and happened to be testing a host of chicken bouillons, broths, and bases, and had plenty of chicken base to play with. I purchased a chicken, gingerly painted the bird with Better-Than-Bouillon chicken base, placed it on a pan, and roasted it at 375 degrees for about an hour, basting about every 20 minutes. The result was exactly as Robby described: succulent and "chickeny" with one of the most golden roasted colors I had ever seen (almost cartoonish), but I wasn't sure about it being superior to the roast chickens I usually make.

I offered the bird up to my fellow Test Kitchen mates, and they agreed with my assessment that it was okay but not necessarily an improvement. However, after about 10 minutes of standing around "sampling," we left a carcass picked bare. This was obviously no ordinary-tasting chicken. Realizing that there was something valuable in using chicken base in the roasting process, I highlighted my ideal characteristics of a roast chicken (a golden bird with crisp skin that eventually softens from the tender and moist meat found below with enough pan jus left behind that one can drag a few roasted potatoes through it or serve on the side to be spooned over the meat) and set out to make a better roast chicken.

I landed on a recipe that I feel is truly Better-Than-Chicken Chicken. This method creates a roast chicken that represents itself honestly and actually tastes like chicken. The color is always photo worthy and accompanied by a rich, savory chicken flavor, enhanced by an umami sensation that I can only describe as divine. If you aren't intrigued by now, I suggest you go pick a chicken and some chicken base, follow the simple recipe, and tell me it's not one of the tastiest chickens you've ever had.

Better-Than-Chicken Chicken

1 (4-lb.) whole chicken 2 Tbsp. jarred chicken soup base Kitchen string (optional)

Vegetable cooking spray

Preheat oven to 375°. If applicable, remove giblets from chicken and reserve for another use. Rinse chicken, and pat dry with paper towel. Brush soup base over entire chicken. Tie legs with kitchen string, and tuck wingtips under, if desired. Lightly grease a wire rack with cooking spray. Place rack in an aluminum foil-lined jelly-roll pan. Place chicken, breast side up, on rack. Bake 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted in thigh registers 165°, shielding with foil to prevent excessive browning, if necessary. Remove from oven, and let stand 10 minutes before carving.

Note: We tested with Superior Touch Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base.

Makes 4 to 6 servings. Hands-on 10 min.; Total 1 hour, 20 min.

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