The meat of a roast chicken is all well and good, but it's the skin that I really adore. Getting it as crisp and burnished as possible is my goal for every bird; if I can hear it crackle like a potato chip, I know I've gotten close.
Strategies for achieving this abound. You can leave the bird uncovered in the fridge overnight, or blast it with a hair dryer. You can rub it down with salt or baking powder or both. Some cooks recommend separating the skin from the flesh, poking holes as you go to release the fat. All of these methods work, to varying degrees.
But the fastest, simplest and perhaps most delicious way to get chicken skin as crunchy as a strip of fried bacon is to turn it into a giant frico — that is, to coat the bird with enough grated Parmesan so that, as it roasts, the skin turns into one big, salty, schmaltz-infused cheese wafer.
It's an idea that follows in the footsteps of my recipe for Parmesan fried eggs and J. Kenji López-Alt's for frico roast potatoes. In theory, it made perfect sense.
However, it did take a few tries to get it right. Its ultimate success depends on when you apply the cheese. Add it too early, and it burns a little, imbuing the meat with a scorched flavor. Sprinkle it on too late, and the skin gets more leathery than crisp. I found that adding the cheese halfway through roasting was perfect, with the Parmesan melting and bubbling into a crackerlike coating that wraps the bird in a crisp, umami embrace. There's nothing quite like it.
With skin this good, I took the less-is-more approach with the other flavors. I mixed some fresh rosemary into the salt rub, because it seemed like a natural fit for the chicken and Parmesan, and used some lemon zest for its citrus perfume. Then I added plenty of freshly ground black pepper and a big pinch of red-pepper flakes, to lend the heat and astringency necessary to cut some of the richness.
Finally, instead of making a sauce, I squeezed juice from the zested lemon into the pan drippings, and called it a day. It was as fine a dinner as I'd ever cooked, and for an easy roast chicken recipe made from simple ingredients, that's saying a lot.
Crispy Parmesan Roast Chicken With Lemon
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Total time: 1 1/4 hours, plus marinating
Sprinkling grated Parmesan over a whole chicken as it roasts yields extra-crisp, extra-savory skin in this recipe, while chopped fresh rosemary and lemon zest perfume the meat through and through. Be sure to serve this with the lemony pan drippings, which make a bright, rich sauce for the tender meat. Heat lovers should feel free to add plenty of red-pepper flakes to the drippings — or serve red pepper on the side for individual spicing.
1 small lemon
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon chopped rosemary, plus 4 sprigs
Large pinch of red-pepper flakes, plus more for serving (optional)
1 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) whole chicken, patted dry
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan
Finely grate 1 teaspoon zest from the lemon, and place it in a small bowl. (Save the zested lemon for the drippings.) Stir in 2 teaspoons salt, pepper, chopped rosemary and red-pepper flakes, if using. Season the chicken inside and out with salt mixture. Let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes, or refrigerate uncovered for up to overnight.
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place chicken, breast side up, in a large skillet, sheet pan or roasting pan. Stuff cavity of chicken with rosemary sprigs. Drizzle breast with a little olive oil.
Roast chicken for 30 minutes. Sprinkle chicken all over with Parmesan, then continue roasting until bird's juices run clear when skin is pierced with a knife and the skin is golden, 25 to 30 minutes longer.
Let chicken rest for 10 minutes. Squeeze juice from the zested lemon, to taste, into the pan drippings, and season with more salt and red-pepper flakes if you like. Carve, and serve with drippings spooned over the meat.