Look, people, cooking isn’t hard. Some recipes are hard, but really most of the best, classic dishes are as easy as pie1.

Take a nice roast chicken. It’s showy – whole birds look fantastic – and just about the easiest thing in the world.

With a tiny bit of attention to detail you can crank out a delicious meal that’ll knock people’s socks off. If you want to really sound impressive, tell people that the recipe is from Thomas Keller – chef-owner of The French Laundry, one of the best restaurants in the country2.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Get a whole chicken. I try to buy organic ‘cause they usually taste better and haven’t been injected with saline solution to artificially jack up the weight, but whatever.
  2. Sprinkle salt all over the outside – don’t miss the bottom! – and into the cavity. Use more than you think you should: I use maybe a couple-three tablespoons for a normal-sized bird.
  3. Roast in your oven at 400 °F. It’s done when you can poke the thigh and the juices come out clear. If you have a thermometer3 you’re looking for 155 °F4 in the deepest part of the thigh.
  4. Let the bird cool for maybe 10-15 minutes, then omnomnomnom.

Really, that’s it5. Once you get the basics down the variations are endless: rub the outside with butter for a crispier skin, or with some herbs for added flavor, or stuff the cavity with half a lemon, or maybe some onions, or …

[1]Pie, despite the expression, isn’t actually very easy. But that’s baking, not cooking, and either way pie’s another show.
[2]It is, in that Keller’s published this “recipe” in a few places… and it isn’t in that, as you’ll see in a moment, there’s barely any “recipe” to speak of.
[3]And you should if you make meat often: a good thermometer is the only way to really guarantee perfectly done meat.
[4]Yes, the FDA says to cook chicken to 170°. The FDA also says that you can’t give or sell milk from your cow to your neighbor, and that you can’t import amazing cheeses from France. If you like stringy, dry, cafeteria-food chicken by all means go for 170°, but if you want your meat to actually taste good trust me and stop at 155°.
[5]OK, I have conveniently skipped the issue of carving the bird, which is significantly harder than actually cooking it. But look: ignore all that the first time and just dive in and tear bits off with your hands. After you see how good it is, you’ll be motivated to learn how to carve. Try YouTube: there’s a whole bunch of great howtos there.