Published September 1, 2008.
Most herbed roast chicken has so little herb flavor it’s hardly worthy of the name. We set out to roast a chicken with herbs in every bite.
Adding herbs to roast chicken is one of the hardest culinary tasks to get right. Delicate herb flavor can’t easily penetrate into the bird and the oven’s heat wilts fresh herbs, dulling flavor.
We wanted to get the entire bird —not just the breast—seasoned with herbs throughout.
We first tried the obvious solutions, none of which worked. Brining in an herb-infused marinade failed; the flavor compounds in herbs are oil soluble, and a water-based solution doesn’t provide a conduit for traveling into the meat. Oil mixed with herbs also failed; skin and bones created too much of a barrier. Spreading herb butter under the skin worked for the breast but not for the legs and thighs. The skin tore too easily. Not only did the herbs escape, the exposed bare meat was dry and leathery.
What did work was to butterfly the chicken and slash shallow cuts in the dark meat. A thick herb paste applied to the now-flat chicken not only stayed on but also penetrated into the pockets created by the cuts. Our second approach for elevating the meat-to-herb ratio was to slather on herb butter midway through cooking. Though the butter melted and ran off, the herbs stayed put.
But how to get golden, crisp-thin skin? By initially browning the chicken in a skillet, we started to render the fat from the skin before the bird went into the oven. The skin was fully rendered when it was time to slather on the herb butter. Tarragon, thyme, the green parts of scallions, and a little minced garlic won the title of best herb combination. Finally, just to make sure every bite of chicken had maximum herb flavor, we added extra herb butter to a quick pan sauce.list of recipes