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Chicagoist Cooks: Roasted Chicken With Cilantro Butter

By Caroline Clough in Food on Aug 1, 2007 3:00PM

2007_august_chicagoistchikn.jpgIn the past two months Chicagoist has roasted three chickens. For us that's a record. We have managed to combine all our past roast chicken experiences with a bit of research and now, we believe, we have perfected our own favorite recipe and method for an absolutely succulent main course. In the past Chicagoist has cooked our chickens in the same way we cook our Thanksgiving turkeys: breast side up with constant basting and liberal amounts of cheese cloth draped over the white meat. Our turkeys have always turned out fine and, for that matter, so have our chickens. That being said, we'll admit that our white meat has always been a bit dryer than we would truly desire. Here comes the research. We consulted our favorite cookbook as well as The Joy of Cooking and spent a bit more time reading the small print. All meats have a minimum or optimal temperature at which they are cooked/all the possible bacteria is killed off. For a roasted chicken you have two temperatures to consider. In the case of white meat the temperature is 160 degrees while the dark meat has to get up to 170 degrees (and it doesn't hurt to let it get even a little above that). These differing temperatures leads one to a dilemma if they cook their chicken breast side up for the entire time … mainly that the you will be overcooking the white meat while waiting for the dark meat to come up to speed. As we mentioned earlier one way to combat this is to drape cheese cloth (or aluminum foil) over the breast meat in an attempt to slow down its cooking and preserve its moistness. But, inevitably, the breast meat suffers. So, in our last three preparations we have started to rotate the chicken as it cooks. Though a bit awkward and not without the risk of light finger-singeing, this new (to us anyway) method provides the entirely moist and cooked bird. Our addition of cilantro butter makes this a dish that can do no wrong.

What You Need:

1 4-6 pound young chicken (also sometimes referred to as a fryer)
½ - 1 stick butter (the amount of butter you use depends on how big your bird is and how you feel about butter...with a six pound bird we definitely use a whole stick...but then we feel pretty good about butter)
1 bunch cilantro (approximately 1-2 cups without stems)
2 cloves garlic
1 white or yellow onion
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups chicken stock

1 roasting pan
1 food processor/blender
1 baster
Small amount of butcher's string
1 rubber cake spatula
2 wooden spoons
1 oven
1 meat thermometer

What You Do:

1. First pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. Make sure that your oven racks are low enough that the chicken won't be pushed up against the ceiling (sometimes we forget to do this and then have to move the now extremely hot racks around at considerable risk to our persons). The size of your bird determines the length of time in must cook. The general rule of thumb is twenty five minutes per pound.

2. Wash your chicken, inside and out, with cold water then pat dry with paper towels. Put it on the rack and push aside for a moment.

3. Get your half stick to stick of butter and microwave it just enough that it's soft to touch but hasn't actually melted. Put that butter, the cilantro, the garlic cloves and a bit of salt into your food processor and blend until the butter and cilantro live as one.

4. Sprinkle the outside of the chicken with salt and pepper.

5. WARNING: this step is messy…if you can figure out a way to make it less so we'd love to hear it. In this step you are sliding the cilantro butter underneath the chicken skin in as many places as possible. Doing the breast meat is relatively easy but the drumsticks not as much. We find using our hands is the best way to separate the skin from the meat without breaking it. Using your cake spatula as a delivery tool, gently slide the cilantro butter as far back and around as you can. Try to get into as many chicken nooks and crannies as possible. Sometimes the spatula can help you only so much before you must use your hands. It's a greasy affair. If you have any additional butter spread it on the outside of the chicken.

6. Cut an onion into four pieces and stick it in the chicken's body cavity…making sure you have removed the neck, giblets etc. Then firmly tie up its legs with the butcher string. The tying is important because it is much easier to rotate a chicken if its legs aren't flopping all over the place.

7. Pour the chicken stock into the bottom of the pan. You are welcome to add onions, carrots or anything else to this mixture.

8. Place the chicken wing side up on the rack. You may have to prop it up with balled aluminum foil. Now put it in the oven.

9. From here on out it's relatively simple. The exact timing does vary depending on how big your bird is. Let's say that you're cooking a four pound bird. With a bird of that size the cooking time is approximately an hour and forty minutes. Cook wing side up for twenty five minutes then using your two wooden spoons (or paper towel covered hands) turn the bird so it is back side up and cook for twenty five minutes. At the end of that twenty five minutes rotate the bird again so the other wing is facing up, cook for twenty five minutes. Lastly turn the chicken breast side up and cook for the remaining twenty five minutes. Baste throughout this entire process.

10. Check the internal temperature of one of the drumsticks. Go for the thickest and deepest part of the meat. If it reads 170-180 degrees you're golden. We always check our breast meat as well…just to be sure everything has gone according to plan. If your temperatures aren't quite there just give the bird an extra 15 to 20 minutes.

11. Remove chicken from roasting pan and place on serving dish. You can, if you wish, make gravy from the chicken stock and drippings.


1. This recipe will serve four with leftovers or six without.

2. This method tends to give you a bird that doesn't have quite as crispy breast skin. To us, it's worth it because the meat is so unbelievably moist. The cilantro butter adds a bit of flavor to the meat that turns the chicken into something a bit more special. You could easily substitute any other herb (basil for example) if cilantro isn't your thing.

3. If you are cooking a bird larger than four pounds you may need to increase the cooking time per pound from 25 to 28. Also you will have to rotate the bird more than once as the cooking time will be longer.

4. There are other recipes that suggest simply putting the chicken backside up for the majority of cooking then turning breast side up for the last half hour. We have yet to try this so we can't tell you if it's better or worse that the four side rotation.

5. We usually serve with garlic and rosemary roasted potatoes as opposed to the more standard mashed. But of course you can serve it with whatever you damn well please.