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For the last chicken I roasted, I used this recipe, slightly modified. The biggest modification was that I added liquid to the pan, it was eyeballed but let's say I used about 1/2 to 1 cup total of a vinegar/homemade chicken stock mixture...enough to come about halfway up the halved onions, in a 12" cast iron skillet.

After reading responses to this question about flipping the bird to get crispy skin, I had decided that some liquid in the pan wouldn't be a problem.

Turns out, when I took the bird out to rest and reduced the liquid (now with chicken drippings added), I was treated to the most delicious gravy I've ever had. It was like sweet liquid gold. I think the caramelization of the onions over the 2 hours was the main reason. I definitely want the same result, gravy-wise.

This time, I don't want to flip the chicken but I still want crispy skin, so I'm going to follow the recipe a little more strictly and not add any extra liquid to the pan and just baste with its own juices as they come out. However, I don't want to lose that delicious caramelized onion gravy.

So, my question: Will the onions still caramelize properly if they don't have a good amount of liquid around them to start? Or should I oil my skillet or add a small amount of liquid so there's something in there until the chicken starts to drip?

Also: Any other reasons for or against liquid in the pan that I might be missing?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The secret to really crispy skin has everything to do with rendering the fat that lies directly under it. Once that fat has removed itself from the skin, a little high heat will crisp it up perfectly. If I am creating a roast chicken, I normally remove it from the packaging and allow it to sit uncovered in the fridge for at least overnight, longer if I have the time. Then I start the chicken low to render the fat, you have to cook it at a minimum of 178F (80C) to remove the most fat. Once the fat renders out, which is going to vary depending on the temp you start the chicken at, you crank the temp to the 450 to 500F range and baste regularly.

To maximize the skin that will crisp you want to make sure that your chicken isn't sitting inside the fat while it cooks. I normally use a inset rack to keep the chicken above the fat but you don't have to. The other component to crispy skin is cooking the chicken uncovered.

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I also find salting the skin will help too. –  NBenatar Sep 26 '10 at 14:21
    
@NBenetar Agreed –  sarge_smith Sep 26 '10 at 19:39
    
That helps because it draws out the moisture. Water impedes the Maillard reaction. Beyond that, I agree with sarge_smith: use a rack in your roasting pan. If you don't have one, no problem; put the chicken naked on a rack in your oven over the roasting pan. –  daniel Sep 28 '10 at 7:29
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You can approximate the use of a rack if you don't have one by perching the chicken on vegetables that raise it off of the bottom of the pan. Make sure to leave room between the vegetables to let the fat drain. –  Martha F. Sep 30 '10 at 2:48

You have the right idea for leaving out the liquid to produce a crispier skin. The patting dry step in your recipe will also be critical. A little oil or butter under your vegetables will help keep the onions from sticking to the pan.

Any liquid you add will cause steam, which will tend to soften the skin on your bird.

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