Up until recently, if I wanted crispy roast chicken, I’d roast a whole entire chicken. They’re great, nothing wrong with that- but, it can feel time-consuming and a bit tedious for a casual quick meal. (HERE’s my go-to whole roast chicken recipe for those who want it.)
But then, I began roasting just the legs. Or breasts. Or whatever I had on hand. (I like legs- they’re the thigh and drumstick together- they’re tender and moist, and tend to be very inexpensive too. Double bonus.) I first played around by treating them as I do my whole roast chickens- smothered with a rub and sopped with goodies. That totally works.
But then, I found an easier way. THE easiest way. I started roasting them with no smother or rub what-so-ever. Just dry, plain, chicken. Sounds appealing right? 😉
But don’t you worry your little taste buds. It truly is the best. Here’s why…
While rubbing butter all over chicken does make a flavorful crispy skin, it turns out the simplest way to get a crispy skin is to leave it totally dry. Pat that thing super dry. The drier it is, the crispier it will be.
Then sprinkle some salt over the top. You want to get generous with it… sprinkle that salt liberally. Not too liberally, or you’ll end up with ‘skins de salt’ as I call them, but give ’em some good salt lovin’. That salt not only helps to flavor it all, but it draws out even more moisture, making that skin even crispier, and more importantly, helping it create a boundary of delicious around the chicken so it stays perfectly moist inside. And the better that skin barrier, the more protected and tender that chicken will be. So what you get with this incredibly dry salted chicken turns out to be a wonderfully tender and flavorful piece of meat.
Counter intuitive, I know, but true.
This recipe really can be as simple as just salt, but as with most things I make, I enjoy variations too. I usually end up going with the herbed version, which is just a sprinkle of herbs de Provence over the top, along with a little pat or two of butter plopped right in the pan. Every so often I’ll decide to stuff come sliced garlic cloves under the skin too.
That’s what’s fun about this recipe- it’s so incredibly simple that it leaves lots of room for play.
Some other things you could try:
Place pats of butter or ghee under the skin.
Rub Dijon mustard under the skin.
Sprinkle chipotle powder, ancho chile powder, smoked paprika, or chile powder over the top.
Throw some fresh rosemary or thyme in there.
Use your imagination… maybe some dill and garlic powder would be good with a squeeze of fresh lemon at the end!? I’m a fan of simple, but once you get this simple version down, I say play away. 🙂
I usually use legs for this, ’cause like I said they’re tender and happen to be affordable too, but you could use any bone-in skin-on cut you like. I’ve used breasts a few times, and I’ve even thrown in wings too. They’re all great using this method. For wings, I’d say cook for about 30 minutes instead. You could even make a party wing tray like this… same method, but lots more wings and side of dip. Yum, think I’ll do that next…
As you can see below with this garlic stuffed leg, salt is important here. But don’t do what I did the first time I tried this method, when I sprinkled 1 whole teaspoon of the stuff on there. I had freaking amazing chicken meat, but the saltiest “skins de salt” I’ve ever had. Yah, don’t do that. But salt is definitely needed. I’d say 1/4 tsp, maybe 1/2 if it’s a big piece and you like things that pack a punch. My motto: you can always add more later. 😉
Below there’s some herbs de Provence seasoned legs to the left, with a splash of paprika over ’em all to the right. I like to sprinkle chicken with a splash of paprika… it’s a trick my mom taught me years ago. It adds a beautiful golden color to the finished product. Totally optional.
bone-in skin-on chicken legs (or breasts, thighs, etc)
salt, approx 1/4 tsp per piece (more or less depending on size and preference)
herbed: add 1/2 tsp herbs de Provence over each piece
garlic: slide a few thin slices garlic under the skin
buttered: slide small pats of butter or ghee under the skin (or in the pan if preferred)
for added color: 1/4 tsp paprika sprinkled over each piece
Preheat oven to 450 degrees
Pat chicken dry with a paper towel on all sides, especially the skin side
Place chicken piece in a baking dish so there’s a little gap between each piece, skin side up
(If they’re touching, they won’t cook as evenly)
Pardon the unattractive imagery here…
If adding garlic, add thinly sliced pieces between the skin and flesh
Lay skin back down in a neat little fashion so it’s hugging the chicken again
(The better it protects the meat, the more tender it all will be!)
Sprinkle salt evenly over the chicken skin
To help disperse seasoning evenly, hold hands high above the chicken when sprinkling salt
Don’t skimp on the salt…
Get it all over the chicken
For legs, approx 1/4 tsp per piece is good
For smaller pieces, such a thighs or wings, go less- for larger, go a little bigger
For a little splash of color- that golden red tone- sprinkle a little paprika over those guys too…
For a little butteriness (’cause who doesn’t love butter?),
toss a couple slabs right in the pot with the chicken…
Bake, uncovered, on the middle rack for approx 45 minutes
(Smaller pieces such as thighs and wings need a less, large breasts may need 10 or so mins more)
Let them rest for 5-10 minutes
(Chickens like to chill too)
Serve up and devour!
(Pour some of that sauce from the pan around the chicken too!)