Butter Is The Secret To Julia Child's Crispy Roast Chicken

The simplicity of a roast chicken is tantalizing, not just in its ease of cooking but also the amount of flavor that's developed while crisping in the oven. Perhaps the crowning prize of a delicious roast chicken is achieving a crunchy skin. Acclaimed cookbook author and food icon Julia Child has an easy method to get a beautiful, crackling skin on a roast chicken every time. The key is already in your fridge: a generous amount of butter.

For her roast chicken or poulet rôti, naturally, Child uses a very French method of cooking the bird. In the first volume of her famous "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," Child describes drying the outside of the chicken with towels and then instructs to "rub the skin" with butter. Throughout its cook in the oven, she initially rotates the chicken on its sides for five minutes each so the skin makes contact with the hot pan — basting with the rendered fat and butter that collects in the pan with each turn. In her cooking show "The French Chef," Child warns to avoid breaking the chicken skin while maneuvering the bird (via YouTube). Through a process of seasoning and rotating, the result is a browned chicken with delectable, crispy skin.

Butter imparts flavor and crisps the skin

Butter (or any fat like olive oil) not only imparts its flavor into the bird, but it also keeps the chicken juicy and allows heat from the oven to be more evenly distributed around the chicken. This more even heat transfer from the butter actually aids the crisping process, allowing for a better rendering of the skin and resulting in a layer of that much-desired crunch.

While butter does a lot of the heavy lifting in Child's recipe, the step where she dries off the chicken is crucial so that there's no excess water creating steam when heated in the oven. Steam prevents browning, which prevents the rendering of the fat in the skin. By removing water from the skin (some methods actually salt and dry-brine the skin in the fridge for a greater effect), you promote crisping.

Basting the skin further allows it to be doused in flavor with every spoonful of melted butter, but further crisping the skin in a way that almost fries the outside. The beauty of Julia Child's roast chicken comes not only because it's easy but also because every bite bursts with the flavor of a buttery, crispy, delicious, juicy bird.