Here Are Julia Child’s Secrets for Cooking Chicken Perfectly
Julia Child inspired countless home cooks to create their best meals using the principles of French cuisine. She started her television career on PBS Food with The French Chef in 1963 and ended with Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom in 2000. You can chalk up her longevity in the public eye to her warm personality and a love of cooking reflected by her opinion that “people who love to eat are always the best people.”
Because Americans eat chicken more than any other meat, Julia’s advice on cooking the perfect bird still resonates today.
Start with the best.
Child believed that cooking superior chicken begins with getting ‘a good and flavorsome bird.’ The best whole chickens come with a plump breast area and a pink, creamy white, or yellow color to the skin. The chicken shouldn’t have any strong odor—an unpleasant smell could signal that it is spoiled.
Defrost the right way.
The method that Child suggested for defrosting a chicken was typical of most food professionals at the time, and it still holds true today. The way to defrost a chicken for the best result is to let it thaw sitting in the refrigerator.
Chicken stock is the key to good sauce.
When making a sauce, Child knew the value of including reduced chicken stock. She found a brown stock easy to make, sautéing the leftover chicken pieces with carrot and onion and then boiling chicken broth with parsley, bay leaves, and thyme. As she said, “It will always give more character to your sauce, however simple it may be.”
Tie it up.
She believed in trussing the bird in preparation for roasting. Not only did that hold the legs and wings in place while it cooked, ensuring even browning, but it also made a neater appearance when the chicken was done and placed on the table.
Use good equipment.
Child liked to start with quality cook’s equipment in the kitchen, saying that it would enhance the enjoyment of the cooking experience to have nice tools. She considered using a V-rack in a roasting pan, oiled to prevent sticking, the best way to cook chicken.
Perfect your timing.
As a basic rule of thumb, Child started her timing with 45 minutes, then added another seven minutes for every pound of chicken that was cooking. That would make a two-pound bird cook the starting 45 minutes, plus an additional fourteen minutes and be perfectly cooked at the 59-minute mark.
Even though she had a formula for cooking time, Child knew it was important to be flexible. She found that larger chickens cook faster per pound than a smaller version, so she suggested that a cook use many methods to determine whether the chicken is done.
The simpler the prep, the better.
Sometimes, the simplest preparations are the best. Child had lots of advice on roasting a chicken, starting with seasoning the cavity with just some salt and a pat of butter. She recommended rubbing the skin with more butter before cooking.
Flip your chicken.
She certainly wasn’t intimidated by moving her chicken while it was cooking. Child started roasting with the chicken breast up, and allowed it to brown for about fifteen minutes. Then, she said to turn it on the left side for five minutes and then the right side for another five minutes, leaving it in this position to cook. Halfway through the cooking process, she instructed home chefs to flip the chicken over for even cooking.
Keep your temperature flexible.
Child started her master roast chicken recipe with a 425-degree oven to brown and then reduced the heat to 350 degrees for cooking. However, she knew that ovens cook differently, so she advocated monitoring the chicken through the whole cooking process, changing the heat levels if needed. She was fine with the chicken sizzling, but warned against any signs that the fat was burning.
Baste for flavor.
Roasting chicken is a comforting process, but Child’s method did require a bit of effort. For the best results, she instructed that the chicken be basted in its juices every 8 to 10 minutes.
Learn how to tell when it’s ready.
According to the chef, there are several different ways to recognize the signs of a chicken that’s almost done. She named, “a sudden rain of splutters in the oven, a swelling of the breast and slight puff of the skin, the drumstick is tender when pressed and can be moved in its socket.” However, the most important method involves pricking the drumstick deeply with a fork and judging the juices that run out. If they run clear yellow without any red, the bird is probably finished.
Safety first when cooking.
We know that it’s important to cook our chicken to reduce the exposure to salmonella, but Child often found that American palates demanded their chicken to be more ‘done’ than French palates. According to her advice, the chicken is finished cooking when the meat is pricked with a fork, the juice that erupts is clear.
Be sure it’s done.
Child didn’t stop with just piercing the drumstick. She also suggested lifting up the chicken and draining the juices from the back, checking for any evidence of pink. If there is color to the juice, she suggested roasting another five minutes and testing it again.
How to check chicken breast for doneness.
If you are just cooking the breast portion of the chicken, it’s easy to dry it out. Child was a fan of feeling the chicken during the cooking process, “Press the top of it with your finger; if it is still soft and yields slightly to the touch, it is not yet done. As soon as the flesh springs back with gentle resilience, it is ready. If there is no springiness, it is overcooked.”
Let it rest.
Once the chicken comes out of the oven, she recommended that it should rest, untouched. Leaving the chicken out for five to ten minutes allows the moisture to return to the meat, making sure that your roasted bird is juicy and flavorful.
Timing is important when serving.
The timing of a dinner is key to the taste and texture of what you’ve cooked. Julia insisted that certain standards be followed for all of her recipes, including instructions for serving. Roast chicken seems to be one of the easiest. She allowed that it could wait for 20 to 30 minutes in the turned-off oven after it cooked with the door cracked, but was adamant that it couldn’t be reheated without losing quality.
Serve with the right plate.
Child often made the recommendation of serving on a heated plate. This way, the serving piece doesn’t affect the temperature of your meat, cooling it down before it reaches the table.
Pair it with the perfect side dishes.
Some favorite dishes were recommended by Julia to serve with her perfect roast chicken. She loved potatoes prepared roasted, souffléd, fried, or broiled. Other choices include beans, stuffed mushrooms, or glazed carrots to complete this comfort meal.
Pair it with the right wine.
Julia’s wine recommendation was a little surprising. While connoisseurs usually pair chicken with Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc and save the red wine for gamey poultry like duck, Julia recommended that her roast chicken be served with a light red wine, like a Bordeaux-Médoc, or a rosé.