This simple one-skillet roast chicken recipe is perfect for weeknight dinners or a cozy date night. Mouthwatering chicken roasts atop layers of thinly sliced potatoes which absorb flavorful drippings from the bird as it cooks. This chicken has it all: crispy skin, juicy meat, and precious rendered schmaltz absorbed into peppery potatoes below. Best of all, it all comes together in one pan!
The secret to moist chicken? Let the bird rest for 10 minutes before carving.
At What Temperature is Roast Chicken Done?
While some chefs pull their chicken at 155°F, the standard temperature for fully cooked chicken is 165°F.
Another way to check if your chicken is done is to slice between the thigh and the breast with a knife. If the juices run clear, the bird is done. If they appear bloody or murky, the chicken needs more time in the oven.
It is not uncommon for just-cooked chicken breast to look slightly pinkish. When in doubt, use a meat thermometer to ensure you’ve reached the point at which your chicken is safe to eat.
Where Does Roast Chicken Come From?
The history of humans consuming roast chicken reaches back about as long as we’ve kept the birds in captivity. Many different cultures from across the globe have variants of roasted chicken associated with traditional cooking. Peru, Australia, France, and Germany have long-held customs of roasting chicken, whether rotisserie style or in the oven.
Schmaltz (also spelled “shmalz” or “schmalz”) is the name referring to rendered poultry fat, typically chicken but sometimes goose or duck. Schmaltz is known for its prevalence in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine as a cooking fat and flavor enhancer.
The word “schmaltz” is derived from the German verb “schmelzen” which means “to melt.” This perhaps refers to the common means of rendering schmaltz, which is to cut chicken fat into small pieces and stir it over heat until the fat is eventually liquified. Another schmaltz-rendering process is achieved through the use of steam injection. In both processes, the rendered schmaltz is filtered, then clarified, before it is ready for use.
A Brief History of Schmaltz
While chicken fat has been flavoring our meals since we began cooking with it (as true in American culture as any other chicken-eating culture across the globe), rendered schmaltz is perhaps most rooted in Ashkenazi cuisine. This is perhaps because European Jews often experienced restrictions on land ownership and as such could not own cattle. Schmaltz became an important olive oil replacement for central and northwestern Europe where olive oil was not readily available at a widely affordable price. Schmaltz has historical roots reaching back to Ancient Israel prior to the forced Jewish exile from Roman Israel.
Because olive oil and sesame oil were not available to Jews who made their way to northwestern Europe, they turned to schmaltz, an available cooking fat approved by Kashrut.
Kashrut is a set of dietary rules prohibiting certain foods; it also dictates how certain foods should be prepared before consumption according to Jewish law. These rules expressly forbid cooking with common fats like butter, lard, and tallow–thus Jews turned to using fat rendered from chickens to cook their meals.
In contemporary Europe, overfeeding geese became common practice in schmaltz and foie gras production.
How Schmaltz is Used Today
When Jews immigrated to the United States, they brought traditions like cooking with schmaltz with them. Due to aggressive advertising by Crisco, some American Jews swapped their schmaltz for the vegetable shortening. Others swapped schmaltz for newly-available olive oil or plant-based oils.
Some doctors and nutritionists suggested the saturated fat content of schmaltz made it an unhealthy cooking oil. Coupled with a series of health movements in the United States, schmaltz lost popularity at the turn of the 20th century and could not be found in most American kitchens.
Schmaltz has since resurged in popularity as modern Jewish cooks connect to their heritage in the kitchen. Endorsements from chefs like Anthony Bourdain brought schmaltz back into the culinary limelight, causing some positive waves for the slandered cooking fat. Schmaltz remains an important “secret ingredient” and flavor booster in modern dishes like chicken pot pie and chicken and dumplings.
Want to buy schmaltz but don’t know where to look? This jar from Epic is certified organic and unbleached.
Simple One-Skillet Roast Chicken and Schmaltzy Potatoes
Whether you choose to cook with schmaltz for religious reasons or for flavor, one thing is certain: you are in for a tasty meal. Gather your ingredients and prepare for assembly in your cast iron skillet.
I used two large russet potatoes (to feed two of us), but if you are cooking for four, consider using another potato or two, and 1/4 to 1/2 cup more chicken broth. Add more parmesan, salt, and pepper between potato layers, too.
Season between every layer of potatoes with salt, pepper, and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.
Once the potatoes are seasoned, add enough chicken broth to just reach the top layer of potatoes to ensure they cook thoroughly as the chicken roasts. Place your chicken atop the potatoes, breast side up.
Give your bird a little extra flavor boost with chunks of onion, sprigs of time, and wedges of lemon. Don’t forget to salt and pepper the skin, for maximum crispiness!
Once you’ve rubbed salt and pepper all over your bird, it’s ready for the oven! Bake at 425 for 20-25 minutes, or until skin begins to brown. Lower the heat to 400 and bake another 30 minutes or so more, depending on the size of your bird.
Mmmmm…crispy skin, juicy meat, schmaltzy taters…let your inner hedonist out and enjoy this meal!
Weeknight dinner just got a lot more fun!
Simple One-Skillet Roast Chicken and Schmaltzy Potatoes
- cast iron skillet
- 1 whole chicken with plenty of fat, preferably organic
- 1 white or yellow onion, peeled and cut into quarters
- 1 lemon, cut in half with seeds removed
- 4-6 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
- 6-8 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2-3 large potatoes, sliced into thin rounds (russet works, but other potatoes are delicious as well)
- 1.5 oz freshly grated parmesan cheese (pecorino works too)
- salt, for seasoning
- pepper for seasoning
- 1/2 cup chicken broth (water or milk work in a pinch)
- At least 30 minutes before you plan to start roasting your chicken, pull it from the fridge and let it come to room temperature. (This ensures a true-to-recipe roast time as the cold bones of the chicken carcass don't inhibit the roasting process.) Dress the outside of the chicken with a generous sprinkling of salt and rub all over the skin. Crack some fresh pepper over the hen and let sit while you prepare the vegetables.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Prepare the onion, lemon, and garlic, and set aside. Cut the potatoes into thin rounds with a sharp knife or mandolin.
- Arrange a single layer of potatoes in the bottom of a cast iron skillet. Season with a pinch of salt, a crack of black pepper (or as much as you'd like), and a bit of grated parmesan cheese. Add another layer of potatoes on top and season accordingly. Repeat with any remaining potatoes. When all of the potato rounds have been incorporated, season the top layer with salt, pepper, and the remaining cheese.
- Pour chicken broth into the cast iron at the edge of the pan, taking care not to disturb too much of the cheese. You want the liquid to just come up to the topmost potato layer.
- Place the chicken on the bed of potatoes, breast side up. Slide into the center rack of the oven and roast for 20-30 minutes, or until the skin begins to brown and start crisping up.
- Turn oven down to 400°F and roast for another 30-45 minutes, or until juices from a knife stuck between the thigh and breast run clear, or the thickest part of the chicken temps at 165°F with a meat thermometer.
- Allow chicken to rest 10 minutes before carving. Cut both breasts and thighs from the carcass, and immediately serve with the potatoes below. Keeps up to four days in the fridge.