The JC100: Roast Chicken

JC 100 Julie ChildWelcome to Week 8 of the JC100 Celebration and the halfway point on our countdown to Julia Child’s 100th birthday on August 15th. In earlier weeks, we’ve cooked classic recipes from Mastering the art of French Cooking 50th Anniversary and The Way to Cook, but this week we’re doing something a little different. We’re focusing on a technique instead of a recipe as we follow Julia’s sage advice for making the ultimate roast chicken.

Roast chicken with lemons and thyme in a serving pan

Few things smell as good as roasting chicken (although fresh-baked bread and roasted garlic come very close). Shopkeepers in Paris know this. They roll huge rotisserie ovens right out to the sidewalk in front of their stores to entice passersby with the most mouth-watering aroma. If the savoury scent of roasting chicken doesn’t stop you in your tracks the sight of their golden juices dripping over mountains of potatoes piled in the bottom of the oven most certainly will.

In Paris the rotisserie chickens drip their juices on the potatoes below

As irresistible as the rotisserie chickens in Paris are, the sight of the uncooked birds displayed with their heads and toes still intact may come as a bit of a shock to some first-time visitors to France (myself included).

Julia once said “you don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.”

I doubt if it gets much fresher than this…

Fresh Chickens with heads and feathers still on are displayed in a store window in Paris

The key to Julia’s method for roast chicken is the attention you give the bird while it’s in the oven. The more you baste it the juicier it will be. The perfect roast chicken should have flawlessly crisp golden skin and moist, tender meat.


Excerpted from Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom: Essential Techniques and Recipes from a Lifetime of Cooking Copyright © 2000 by Julia Child. Reprinted with permission from the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

A 3 ½-to-4 pound chicken serves 4 or 5 people. Timing: 1 hour and 10 to 20 minutes, at 425°F for 15 minutes and then at 350°F, to internal temperature of 170°F. See When is a Roast Chicken Done? below. Before roasting, wash the chicken rapidly in hot water and dry thoroughly. For ease in carving, cut out the wishbone. Season inside the cavity with salt and pepper and, if you wish, a thinly sliced lemon, a small onion, and a handful of celery leaves. Salt the chicken lightly all over and rub with soft butter. Tie drumstick ends together, and set breast up in an oiled V-shaped rack (or fold wings akimbo and set on an oiled flat rack). After its 15-minute browning in the hot oven, reduce heat to 350°F, baste rapidly with accumulate pan juices, and continue, basting rapidly every 8 to 10 minutes. After ½ hour, strew ½ cup each of chopped carrots and onions into the pan, basting them. When the chicken is done, make the sauce as described in A Simple Sauce for Poultry below.

WARNING: Because of possible harmful bacteria in raw chicken, be sure to wash all utensils and surfaces the chicken may have touched.

When is a Roast Chicken Done?

When an instant meat thermometer inserted between the thigh and breast reads 165°-170°F, its legs move in their sockets, the thickest part of the drumstick is tender when pressed, and when it is pricked deeply its juices run clear yellow. When you hold the chicken breast-up, the very last drops of juice to drain from the vent run clear yellow.

Giblets – the Liver, Gizzard, and Neck

Use the gizzard and neck for making light chicken stock. Tuck the liver inside the cavity and let it roast with the chicken, or save it in your freezer to make chicken-liver sauté or a French pâté.

Timing for Roast Chicken

Count on a basic 45 minutes plus 7 minutes per pound. In other words, a 3-pound chicken takes the basic 45 plus (7 x 3) 21, which equals 66 minutes, or just oven an hour.

A Simple Sauce for Poultry

Use leftover poultry bones and scrapes, and brown with a little oil in a heavy pan with a chopped carrot, onion, and celery stalk. Sprinkle on a tablespoon of flour and brown, stirring for a minute or two. Add a chopped plum tomato, an imported bay leaf, and a big pinch of thyme, plus chicken broth and water to cover. Simmer slowly, loosely covered, for 2 hours, adding more liquid as needed. Strain, degrease, and boil down to concentrate flavour. Use this plus ½ cup of dry white wine to make your deglazing sauce.

An even Simpler Sauce for Poultry

Remove the chicken and spoon the fat out of the roasting pan. Into the pan, stir in the herbs and blend in the broth and, stirring constantly, boil for several minutes on the stovetop to concentrate the flavor. Correct the seasoning and strain the sauce into a warm sauceboat. Carve the chicken and serve with the warm sauce.


Stuffed, trussed, rubbed with butter, seasoned and ready to go in the oven…

Chicken in a roasting pan

As simple a recipe as this is, I ran into a bit of trouble. When I inserted my meat thermometer into the bird to test for doneness the mercury didn’t budge, and on closer inspection, I noticed the glass section had water inside it. I must have submerged the top of the thermometer the last time I washed it. I relied on Julia’s formula for timing instead. After roasting my 3-pound chicken for exactly 66 minutes, I thought it looked magnificent!

Roast chicken with lemons and thyme

But when it was time to carve it, I un-trussed the legs and saw that it wasn’t entirely cooked through. The juices pooling between the thigh and the breast weren’t clear and the legs were still fairly snug in their sockets. Back into the oven it went.

Twenty minutes later…rustic, simple, moist and delicious.

Trussed roast chicken on a cutting board

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  1. I loved those French chickens roasting over the potatoes. A friend and I had one of the chickens for lunch once, but I didn’t taste the potatoes. Next time! I remember thinking it was so much more desirable than a chicken franchise. They can’t be compared. And your chicken looks delicious – hope you enjoyed it.

    • As hard as I tried I never did get to taste one of the rotisserie chickens. So many nights I planned to pick one up on the way back to my apartment and enjoy dinner in, but by the time I’d get there they would be sold out or closed. I did have a very memorable roast chicken au jus, frites and salad at a brassiere on Rue Cler though.

      By the way, I’ve started looking at vacation rentals in Lyon :-)

      • Perhaps you could look up cooking classes in Lyon, too, and then choose accommodation near the classes. I highly recommend enrolling in French classes while you’re still in Canada so you can eventually have conversations with French people about French cooking. I met people by attending a couple of churches regularly, and some people at the university and in a restaurant also befriended me. If you become part of a group like this, they will invite you into their homes and you’ll see how they prepare food – even the simplest meal is delicious.

        • Thanks for the great suggestions! If I go it won’t be until sometime in 2013 so I’ll have lots of time to plan. :-)

  2. Looks beautiful!! Good work on the timing too…I used a thermometer and noticed my oven ran a tad higher than normal. I will be posting mine on Friday :)

    • Thanks Samantha! I think I had the opposite problem with my oven running colder than normal. Either that or I wasn’t basting fast enough so was letting too much heat escape. Who’d have thought a simple roast chicken would be the first of the JC100 recipes to trip me up :-)

      I’m looking forward to your post tomorrow. Can’t wait to see your photos!

  3. Ohh, yes, your chicken does look perfect. I’m so glad that Julia Child on facebook highlighted your pin so I could head over here. It’s fantastic when a recipe provides timing as well as temperature just for situations like yours. I’m sorry the thermometer is broken, but glad your bird came out perfectly anyhow. It looks delicious.

    • The incident with the thermometer was a good reminder for me not to rely too heavily on gadgets in the kitchen. :-)

      Thank you so much for stopping by! You have a wonderful blog with gorgeous food pics and a natural gift for storytelling. I’ll be visiting more often.

      Have a great weekend!

  4. these pictures are great! the best things are often the most simple… I recently roasted a whole chicken but this one seems much nicer and crispy :) plus anything by julia childs seems like it was already made with love

    enjoyed my browse! will visit again

    • Thanks Francesca! I think it was that first 15 minutes at the higher temperature that turned the chicken such a nice, golden brown. I think you’re roasted chicken sprinkled with rosemary and served with a sauce made with Marsala sounds fantastico!



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