My first roast chicken was less than ideal—I rinsed the bird in the sink and oiled and seasoned it while still wet. Let’s just say, it wasn’t my best work. Then I got my first cookbook, Appetite by Nigel Slater, that’s known for its easy and comforting recipes. It not only taught me how to roast the best chicken, it helped me step up my game with herb butter stuffed between the skin and the breast. Plus, potatoes and onions under the chicken—it’s an instant side dish.
Eventually, I also learned to dry brine, wet brine, butterfly, and even salt and chill chicken. Roast chicken became a part of my cooking repertoire—I’m confident I can make a golden, crispy, and juicy chicken. There’s just one thing: every now and then the chicken breasts turn out a little dry.
I roast my chicken breast side up, as the vast majority of recipes suggest. This gives the skin maximum exposure to heat, rendering a golden, crispy bird. But since the breasts are so lean, they’re easy to overcook and dry out. That’s why I was intrigued when I heard that some cooks swear by flipping the bird—so to speak—to cook it upside down with the breasts facing down. (Here’s a visual—it looks like a lineman tucked into a football huddle.)
The idea is that the fat from the thighs and legs drains onto the breasts, which also cook more gently tucked on the bottom of the pan, keeping them moist.
I set out to test this method by roasting a chicken my favorite way: salted bird air-dried in the fridge, brought to room temperature, trussed, and cooked with plenty of salt in a 450°F oven. Though it felt wrong, in the name of scientific inquiry I placed it on a pan breast-side down.
Would the breasts be noticeably moister? What about the rest of the chicken? Also, could I live without the crispy skin on the chicken breasts?
The breasts were slightly more moist than usual, but their skin was pale as my Irish complexion is on a cold winter day. The texture of the dark meat—which was facing up—was strangely altered; dry and gummy. I’ll be sticking to roast chicken cooked with the breast side up.