I owe Thomas Keller – you know, of The French Laundry fame – an apology. Oh I’m sure he doesn’t give a damn one way or the other, but I feel I just owe the guy a public apology. So, here goes.
Some time ago, my neighbor friend, Allen, lent me his copy of The French Laundry Cookbook. I love cookbooks, and I had fun just reading it, like a letter from one food lover to another. But the whole time I was reading, my primary thought was, “Damn, there’s not one thing in here that isn’t as complex as hell”. And I don’t shy away from complicated dishes; I figure that’s the price for perfection sometimes. But I finally came away with the sense that Keller wrote this cookbook as an marketing device for potential customers of The French Laundry. And my unconscious estimation of him as a celeb chef was that his recipes might turn out to be nice dishes, but they’d always be buggers to make!
Shock! Here’s Keller’s own recipe – no second or third person stuff here – for what he calls the world’s best simple chicken. But truthfully, you really don’t need a recipe for this, it’s that simple. There are just a few simple keys: the chicken must be whole, must be as dry as possible, truss it, cover with kosher salt and pepper, and roast for an hour at 450 degrees. At that point Keller sets the chicken aside to rest for 15-20 minutes, and adds two teaspoons of chopped thyme to the pan juices, which he uses to baste the chicken before serving. That’s it guys! Actually, the drying part is the hardest part of this recipe – I’ve seen Ming Tsai use a small fan on his counter to do this. And since this method will create a lot of fat/juices cooking out of the chicken – and smoke too, it’s best to have it off the bottom of the pan you use – I’ve got one of those beer can chicken thingies that is just perfect for holding this chicken up nice and tall while she roasts.
And you know what? The amazing thing is that this chicken is super-moist, as crispy as any chicken can be, and just downright delicious. And if you weren’t paying attention, let me point out that Keller is not allowing the kitchen police in during this procedure – yup, there’s chicken skin, chicken fat, and salt up the ying-yang. But by-golly, there’s more pure goodness in this one meal than you’ll uncover in a year’s dining in the cardiac ward – take a night off once in awhile, it’ll be good for your psyche.
And the creative self in me says, why stop short of nirvana, now that we’re this close? Think how simple it’d be to take those pan drippings with the thyme in there, and heat it until it’s bubbly, and add 1/4 or 1/2 cup heavy cream and a tablespoon of Dijon mustard – swirl it a bit, and ladle a spoon of this over the crispy, moist bird. Youza, that’s good!