I'd like to bake a chicken. Let's say it's already washed, marinated, sitting on tray and ready to bake. I usually do it at 180 degrees C, for 1 hour. My main problem is that the skin is not crunchy enough and the meat is kind of "wet" and watery.
I'd like to know what will change if I bake it longer at this temperature, or if I bake it for the same time at higher temperature. Basically, how does temperature, baking time and air flow (optional ventilation in the oven) affect the meat. I guess I should experiment, but I'd like to understand the underlying processes a bit.
My method for cooking a chicken is this:
Rub chicken with olive oil and a good amount of salt and pepper (salt is important for a crispy skin).
Cover with foil and bake for ~40 minutes @ ~180 degrees C. This part is to actually cook the bird through - skin at this point will be white and unappetising.
Increase the temperature to ~220 degrees C for the remaining 20 minutes (I also put Yorkshire pudding and roast pots in at this point as I am usually doing a traditional sunday roast). This crisps up the skin and finishes off cooking the bird.
I then let the bird rest for 10 minutes in a warm place.
If the question is crispy skin, these related questions (1 and 2) provide a lot of tips and tricks to get what you want. As you can see in this answer, the trick is to start at a lower temperature to render all the fat - you also want your chicken sitting on a rack or on top of vegetables so it's not sitting in the fat once it's rendered. Towards the end of your cooking you want to turn up the heat to crisp up the skin after the fat has rendered.
Note that watery meat isn't good, but you do want to keep your meat moist, so you don't want to cook it so long at a high heat that it dries out. Tender meat is greatly helped by using a brine.
Here's what I do:
It comes out nice, brown and tasty.
The time your chicken will take to cook depends on the size and the quality of the bird. A good quality chicken has no need for olive oil or any other fats to be added. A way of ensuring a large bird has juicy tender breast meat is to roast it upside down for the half the cooking time and then turn it over so that the skin browns and goes crispy. I think the golden rule for cooking chicken is to untruss the legs, so if they are tied together untie them before cooking. This results in the thighs cooking at nearer the same time as the breast meat.
First off, don't cook a bird based on time if you can avoid it. The internal temperature of the meat when you put it in the oven, how accurate your oven's thermostat is, how well your oven holds heat and how often you open the door can all make significant changes to cooking time.
Get a good quality instant-read thermometer or a probe thermometer (you leave the probe in the bird and there's a wire to a readout outside the oven), and learn what internal temperature gets the meat properly cooked. You can get to a rough idea of when your chicken will be ready by oven temperature and weight of the bird, but if you want to get the right doneness every time, you really need to cook by internal temperature of the meat.
Justkt provided some good links for techniques on how you might get the skin the way you want it, and her recommendation of brining is a solid one (though unnecessary for a chicken in my opinion).
I have been cooking chicken to perfect doneness for a long time. The first thing you have to do is know your bird (not personally, but you will know it personally during the cooking process). You see, breast meat cooks at a different rate than the rest of the bird simply because of its composition. LittleDishy answered it above. It's no secret really. What you do is cook the bird upside down (which technically when alive is right side up) for about half the entire cooking duration. If you want the meat to be tender and very juicy. it is a matter of bringing the internal temperature of the meat that is not right next to the bone up at a slow ramp. As soon as we reach about 168 degrees it is time to uncover the bird and up the oven to 400+ degrees. This will cause the skin to crisp and the internal meat temperature to rise above the temperature that any possible bacteria can survive (about 170 degrees). This should not take longer than 8 to 10 minutes. The moment the thermometer reads 170 you then shut the oven down first and immediately remove the bird and cover it up again. Let it cool down until the thermometer reads about 130. Add your garnishments and by the time it is placed on a serving tray it is at about 120 to 125. Pull the cover off and there you have it, a bird with the meat practically falling off the bones, super tender and juicy.
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