Vicki James-I previously posted a lengthy blog about my efforts to cook a juicy roast chicken with crispy skin. If you read the post, you know that I described the difference between chilling methods employed in poultry plants. Your garden variety grocery store chicken is placed in a water bath to cool it after it is slaughtered, to control bacteria growth. Fancier chickens are air chilled, a longer but equally effective process. Because it more labor intensive to air chill a chicken, they cost more. If you allow a water chilled chicken to dry out in the refrigerator for several hours, you can achieve the crispy skin the air chilled chicken is known for.
I had never cooked an air chilled chicken before and decided I wanted to try it. For comparison, I roasted an air chilled Bell & Evans chicken from Whole Foods one week, and tried a Greenwise air chilled chicken from Publix the next. An air chilled chicken is much easier to prepare. When I removed the Bell & Evans chicken from its wrapper, there was scarcely any fluid from the chicken. The chicken was indeed drier. I allowed it to sit on a platter for thirty minutes to come to room temperature. I rubbed it with a mixture of one tablespoon of salt, one tablespoon of baking powder ( which helps to blister the skin), and freshly ground black pepper to taste. I started the chicken on convection roast 400 degrees and turned it down to 350 after 15 minutes. Due to a kitchen thermometer malfunction, I actually ended up cooking the chicken to 190 degrees instead of the optimal 165. It was still the tastiest chicken I've ever roasted. The skin crisped perfectly and the meat was still juicy. I give it two thumbs up.
The next week, I roasted a Publix Greenwise chicken. This chicken weighed roughly 3 pounds, in contrast to the 5 pound Bell & Evans bird, so I knew that I would have to be very careful not to over cook it. When I removed the wrapping, there was a small amount of liquid. Less than I find with a water chilled chicken, but more than was in the Bell &Evans chicken wrapper. The Greenwise chicken had a little more fluid in the cavity of the bird. I blotted it well with paper towels both inside and out. Then I used the same salt, baking powder and pepper rub, and allowed the chicken to sit out for 30 minutes before roasting it. I used the same temperature to start with, but since the chicken was smaller, I reduced the heat to 325 convert roast after 15 minutes. In about 50 minutes the chicken was done. Once again the meat was juicy and delicious and the skin was crisp. I have to say that it was an excellent chicken.
While the Bell & Evans chicken was a little more expensive, with the 5 pound chicken costing around $15, that chicken was so good, it was a poultry epiphany! Considering it was two pounds larger than the Greenwise chicken, which I purchased for around $10, the cost differential was pretty insignificant. I don't remember the exact price per pound for the two chickens, but it had to have been close. Given a choice, I would definitely go for the Bell & Evans bird. If you have decided I'm some kind of a nut when it comes to creating a perfect roast chicken, you would be correct. Aren't you glad there are people like me who will obsess over this stuff so you don't have to?
The Greenwise chicken is also a perfectly fine product, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. If I'm feeling lazy or the weather is miserable and I don't want to make the extra stop at Whole Foods, I would happily purchase the Publix bird for a family dinner. However, if you are seeking poultry perfection, go with Bell & Evans. You won't be sorry!
I am not being compensated for this endorsement (sadly) so you can be sure my opinions, while subjective, are completely honest.
So, what's the take-away here? You can make a water chilled chicken crispy golden brown and juicy within if you take the time to chill it, uncovered, in your fridge for several hours. It will need a salt and baking powder rub and you will need to replace the paper towels under the chicken regularly to make sure it stays dry.
These steps are not necessary with an air chilled chicken, except for using the rub and allowing the chicken to sit outside the fridge for a good thirty minutes before roasting. The Bell & Evans chicken will be almost bone dry when you remove the wrapper. It was the more delicious of the two air chilled chickens I cooked. The Greenwise chicken is more damp and will require a little more effort to dry it well.
I bet you are thinking you have learned far more about roasting chicken than you ever cared to know. But the die hard roast chicken fanatics out there are going to thank me for it!