A roast chicken is a beautiful thing to behold. It has a delicate layer of crackling, golden-brown skin, and holds the promise of succulent, juicy, well-seasoned meat. Often, it's the first thing a person learns to cook, because what could be easier? Season the bird, put it in the oven and, about 45 minutes later, dinner's ready.
All too often, though, it disappoints: either the breast is dry, or the legs are undercooked and pink at the bone. The problem is that the white and dark meats need different cooking times - the breast is leaner and dries out if overcooked, while the legs need a longer time in the oven. If I'm making roast chicken for me and my husband, I carve the legs and breasts from the carcass, lay everything on the pan and then cook them together, taking the pieces from the oven at different times according to when they're done. While this is good for the flavour and texture of the chicken, it doesn't make for pretty presentation, and shouldn't be served to company.
Probably the best way to cook a whole roast chicken is to put it on a rotisserie. Because the heat circulates around the bird as it turns on the spit - not just on the exterior of the bird, but also through the cavity - the chicken stays moist. Unfortunately, most of us don't have a rotisserie in our ovens.
Some cooks swear by brining the bird: dissolve salt and sugar in water, flavour it with herbs and/or spices, then drop the bird in and refrigerate it for several hours. Through osmosis, the flavoured water is sucked into the flesh, making it moister. You have to be careful with this, however, because if it's left in the brine for too long, the bird will be too salty. Some people dislike the texture of brined chicken, saying it resembles ham or other types of cured meat. To avoid dry breast meat, other cooks spread flavoured, softened butter over the meat, but under the skin; or they baste it constantly with the melted drippings.
I've experimented with many ways of cooking roast chicken that will please both white meat and dark meat eaters, and also look attractive when served - and it's still a work in progress. Right now, I'm convinced that one of the simplest methods is the best. I never truss the bird: French chefs may argue with this, because an untrussed chicken doesn't look as nice when cooked, but trussing it draws the legs closer to the body and makes it more compact, which means it takes even longer for the dark meat to be done. Use only medium-sized birds that are about 1.5kg to 2kg.
I never brine chicken because I lack the fridge space (it needs to be in a large enough container so it can "swim" in the liquid); instead, I just salt it inside and out, then refrigerate it for at least a day so the salt has time to penetrate deep into the flesh. Take the bird from the fridge and dry it with paper towels. Put it, breast-side down, on a V-shaped roasting rack set over a baking pan: by cooking it with the breast down, the fat from the moister part of the bird (the back, tail and legs) melts and bastes the drier meat. Leave it at room temperature for about 45 minutes (if it's a warm day, put it in an air-conditioned room). At least 20 minutes before cooking the chicken, pre-heat the oven to 250 degrees Celsius, using the fan setting, if your oven has it. Put the chicken in the oven and roast it for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the skin is deep golden (if it starts getting darker than that before it's done, lay a sheet of aluminium foil loosely over it). To test that it's done, take the end of the drumstick in your towel-wrapped hand and shake it gently back and forth; if the thigh moves loosely in the joint where it meets the carcass, remove the chicken from the oven and leave it for about 15 minutes to rest, which makes it easier to carve.
Truc (tryk): noun, masculine, trick, gimmick, device. A French word for a chef's secret.