This cast iron roast chicken is one of those dishes that looks like I spent hours in the kitchen slaving over it. Truth is, this recipe, based on an Ina Garten original, couldn’t be simpler. It’s a testimony to the brilliance of cast iron skillets when it comes to roasting or browning meat. No other baking / roasting dish, pan or tray comes close.When you cook a cast iron roast chicken, achieving an even a delicious, brown, crispy char encasing moist flesh within, is easy.
Roast chicken I imagine, was originally a bird on a large skewer over an open fire with the fat dripping on the flames like slow leaking fuel. The open fire may no longer be there in homes but the crackly skin, burnished in the cast iron skillet, is still the most popular part of a roast bird. Ina Garten’s recipe for cast iron roast chicken calls for a close to 2kg bird, seasoned simply with kosher salt and pepper. I cooked a slightly smaller chicken and added a dry rub of ba’haraat to infuse it some spicy smokiness. Hence the slightly darker, almost burnt appearance of the skin. The garam masala of Arab cuisines across the Middle East, ba’haraat is a robust, flavour-packed blend of black pepper, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, anise, dried red chillies and paprika. It’s added to meat stews and curries and even to lentil dishes. Its savoury, meatiness, I felt, would bump up the taste and intensity of my roast chicken.
I followed Ina’s suggestion and threw in sliced potatoes to soak up the delicious drippings of fat and turn into crisp, golden, ultra addictive discs. The potatoes themselves were tossed in just about a tablespoon of butter, salt and a sprinkling of dried thyme. Next time, I do a cast iron roast chicken, I plan to partner the potatoes with other root vegetables like carrots, turnips, sweet potatoes etc. Shallots would be great too. The potatoes were sliced thinly in using a mandolin – on the 2nd setting, you want them thin but not so wispy that they would struggle to hold their shape when cooked.
Preparing the chicken is easy but it’s important to remember a few crucial tips. The skin and the cavity must be dry – wet skin will not yield perfect brown crispiness. Also, I prefer to thoroughly dry the chicken with kitchen towels, season generously with salt on the skin and inside the cavity and leave it uncovered in the fridge overnight; this is essentially dry brining before roasting it the next day. Remember to bring the bird back to room temperature and wipe off any moisture before you put it in the oven or putting on a dry rub. I massaged the ba’haraat onto the skin, just before it went onto the preheated cast iron skillet.
When the chicken goes into the hot skillet, the skin beneath sizzles and caramelises beautifully, while the skin on top browns under the grill. When you roast chicken in a cast iron pan, there’s no need to handle or turn the hot chicken. The uniform heat distribution in the pan ensures even cooking and perfect browning. The potatoes too are cooked just right – soft and yielding in the bottom layer and crisp on the top layer. Resting the cooked chicken for 20 minutes holds the juices in, making for really moist, satiny meat.
Cast Iron Roast Chicken
- 12-inch cast iron skillet
- 1 1.5 kg Dressed chicken with the skin on
- 1 tbsp ba'haraat spice mix
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
- 750 g potatoes, sliced not too thin starchy variety
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Dry the chicken thoroughly with paper kitchen towels and rub generously all over with salt. Tie the legs together an let it sit overnight in the fridge, uncovered.
- Take the chicken out well in time and let it come to room temperature before you begin roasting and preheat the cast iron skillet in oven to 220 degrees C.
- Meanwhile, pat the chicken dry and rub with the ba'haraat spice mix, making sure to season the cavity as well.
- While the oven is heating, toss the sliced potatoes in butter, thyme, salt and pepper.
- Once the skillet is hot, drizzle 1 tbsp of the olive into the pan and place the chicken in the middle arranging the potatoes around it.
- Roast the chicken with the potatoes for 50 minutes too an hour till the spuds are crisp and cooked, the chicken is golden and cooked - 155 degrees C on a thermometer inserted into the breast.
- Rest the cooked chicken in the pan for 20-30 minutes before serving.