April 12, 2024
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500 Degree Chicken: Perfect for Erev Shabbat

Over the decades I tried every method of roasting chicken I could find. Long, slow-roasted … vertical roasted “Coke can” chicken … sous vide. When I finally found this recipe, my favorite by far, it turned out to be particularly well suited for Friday nights when Shabbat begins early, because it extends some of the cooking into Shabbat.

I should comment that the halachot for using an oven, even in “Shabbat mode,” are restrictive enough that I almost never use it. Food must be at least half-cooked when Shabbat begins; one must leave the oven on all Shabbat long; one cannot put food into the oven once Shabbat has begun. But this recipe satisfies all those rules, as you will see.

The method, which I call “500 Degree Chicken,” was invented (or discovered?) by Bridget Lancaster and Julia Collin Davison, of “America’s Test Kitchen,” as they were trying dozens of ways to cook whole chickens in hopes of getting a perfect mix of succulent white and dark meat. While they were experimenting, a fuse blew and their ovens lost power—and that turned out to be the key to success.

Using this method, you will cook the chicken at a very high temperature, anywhere between 450 F and 500 F (I settled on 465 F), for a half hour, then turn off the oven without ever opening the door, and let the cooking “coast” as the oven slowly cools down over the next half hour. If you time it just right, you can put the chicken in the oven a half hour before Shabbat begins, and then, just as Shabbat starts, turn off the oven and put it on Shabbat mode (so that you will be able to open the door on Shabbat). A half hour later, you can take the chicken out. As long as you don’t leave the chicken in the oven beyond that half hour, it will be amazingly moist, flavorful and succulent. The skin is not crunchy, but the richness of the meat more than makes up for it. (For those of you who have studied the physics of heat wave penetration, this will actually make sense as a way to heat the chicken evenly throughout.)

First, you will need a heavy-bottomed fry pan, either cast iron or stainless steel—not aluminum—that you put into the oven before turning it on. The pan heats up as you preheat the oven. Not everyone has such a pan handy, but it is worth a purchase. (Don’t use pans with a non-stick surface; they should not be subjected to high heat.)

As the oven and pan heat up together, prepare your whole chicken as follows. Clean and dry the chicken. Do not stuff it. Tie the two legs together so they cover the breast—if you can, pull them toward the neck as you can see in the photo. Rub the chicken with a couple tablespoons of oil—I use olive oil. Shake your favorite spices over the chicken—I use onion powder, garlic powder and paprika.

When the oven reaches full temperature, place the chicken on the fry pan (which is already in the oven, and quite hot) backside down, legs and breast up. You should hear a good sizzle as the chicken hits the pan. Close the oven, and set the timer for 30 minutes. Keep the oven door closed—no basting or turning is required.

After 30 minutes, turn off the oven without opening the door at all. Wait another 30 minutes.

Now that a full hour has passed, take the chicken out of the oven. It helps to let it sit at least 15 minutes before carving so juices get reabsorbed into the meat. If it’s not Shabbat yet, you can make a little gravy from the delicious juices that have settled in the bottom of the pan.

Carve as you would any whole chicken. And enjoy!

Notes:

I find that at 500 F, the chicken spatters too much and the oven eventually gets grease-stained. In their second publication of this method, the cookbook “Bridget and Julie: Cooking at Home,” they settled on 450 F, but I find 465 F works well, too.

I like to protect the pan with a piece of aluminum foil for easier cleanup.

Cast iron pans require more care than stainless steel. I use “Cook’s Standard 12-inch Stainless Steel Stir Fry Pan,” from Amazon, which has two small handles and fits in any oven. Use any inexpensive stainless steel pan. My supermarket occasionally sells $10 steel pans. Just make sure the long handle will fit in your oven. Aluminum pans will not work because they do not hold enough heat.

I sometimes try this method using a half chicken, placed cut side down. There is no need to tie the one leg. Cook at 465 F for 22 minutes, then turn off the oven and let it coast for 30 minutes. The results are not as good as using a whole chicken, but it’s quite satisfactory.

You can try adding an extra leg or two to the pan alongside the chicken, but do not nestle them against the whole chicken, or it may not cook as thoroughly.

Over the years I’ve tried all sorts of spices: za’atar, oregano, herbs de provence with lavender, various spice blends. They all work.

Leftover white and dark meat will be incredibly flavorful and perfectly juicy. The white meat is particularly good for chicken salad.

You may find that this is the go-to recipe for your family each and every Friday night, and we never tire of it. It’s that good.

By Dan Dyckman

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