Roasted chicken with ginger-scallion sauce

A twist on Thomas Keller: Roasted chicken with ginger-scallion sauce

A post for my sister-in-law

Dear Sally,

Some years ago, you asked me for a recipe for roast chicken. I happily typed out a long list of ingredients and several paragraphs of instructions. If memory serves, the recipe required you to start 24 hours in advance and I may have also asked you to stand on your head and recite passages from the Bhagavad Gita, I’m not sure. I’m too embarrassed to read through the length of my notes.

All I can say is…I’m sorry. I’m sorry for complicating what should be simple. I’m sorry for a recipe that even if it were executed down to the last headstand would only lead to halfway decent roast chicken some of the time. I’m sorry for blowing a major Jewish-woman bonding moment.

What can I say... I was young and foolish. But there is good news. Saturday was my birthday, and I am not young anymore.

And so Sally, I’m asking for a second chance. This is the last recipe for roast chicken you will ever need. I am teaching it to my son so that when the time comes he can woo the love of his life. It is that good. And get this, it is also one of the simplest meals you will ever make.

Last month, my stepmother, Gaby, made roast chicken to celebrate my mother’s 70th birthday. (Yes, we are one of those families.) Gaby is one of the best cooks I know, so when she told me she’d found a roast-chicken recipe so good that she would never use another, I was intrigued.

The recipe is Thomas Keller’s. Gaby followed it exactly – that is the kind of cook she is – and the results were amazing. And unlike anything I’d ever tasted. I’m Jewish. I’ve been eating roast chicken my whole life. Grandma Dora loved paprika. Rae covers and then uncovers hers. Kine marinates. My mother-in-law sweetens with orange. My mom uses every clove of garlic she can find. Blindfolded, I could identify all the mother figures in my life by their chicken recipes.

trussed chicken ready for the oven

I love all these women and their chicken. But Gaby’s chicken – via Thomas Keller -- is a game changer. This is it, for better or worse, in sickness and in health. I’m done.

Sort of…

This is me, so a little twist is inevitable.

roast chicken with great skin

When I first tasted the chicken – crackling skin, juices gushing, even the white meat fragrant and moist – my first thought was of the roast chickens at the Asian market. They are the closest match to the Keller chicken in both essence and intensity of flavor.

And while I like Keller’s thyme finish, and who is going to argue with Gaby’s gravy, one cook’s bite off the platter and my mind scampered east, as it is often prone to do in all things kitchen. I was dreaming of ginger-scallion sauce. I was so lost that when Gaby asked me to carve the chicken, I cut it Chinese style with little half moons of white meat each topped with a bite of perfect crispy skin. Oops.

So Sally, can we start over with the Jewish-woman bonding. Here is a new roast chicken recipe. The original recipe is from Thomas Keller. I learned it from my Chinese, Irish, Jewish stepmother, Gaby. And then I put an Asian spin on it.

I've included my version of ginger-scallion sauce below.

Here is another take on the sauce. I like my way better, but one of my kids prefers the hot-oil way. (This guy is just fun to read even if you aren't going to try his recipe.)

Here is a link to the Keller roast chicken recipe. If you are going to do it my way, cook the chicken just as he instructs, but don't add the thyme at the end. Instead, cut it Chinese style (see the top picture) and serve it with a bowl of ginger-scallion sauce. The sauce is very strong and a little goes a long way. You are supposed to just dip the chicken in a little bit of the sauce. But that being said, my kids slather it on everything (OK, so do most of the adults I serve it to), so sometimes I double the recipe.

Either way, this chicken is simple and easy, close to perfection, and very hard to mess up. It is amazing that it took me more than 40 years to learn to make roast chicken. Turns out there are some advantages to aging. And this is one of them.

roasted chicken

Ginger scallion sauce

Ginger scallion sauce

2 tablespoon grated ginger
4 tablespoons minced scallions (white part)
6 tablespoons peanut oil
1 teaspoon salt (use the best salt you have)
10 -15 drops sesame oil

Grate the ginger. Mince the scallions very fine. Mix them together. Add the oil and salt. Mix well. Allow to sit for 30 minutes or more. Taste and if the salt isn't exploding, add a little more. This sauce should pop in an almost mind-altering way. A little goes a long way. Serve with roast chicken.

Notes: Some people heat the oil to almost smoking point, then pour it over the ginger scallion mixture. I've tried it both ways, and I prefer it without heating the oil. It takes some of the zing out of the sauce. But try it, if you like.


yes, this is the best chicken recipe. yes, i had to wait for 70 years to taste it. i have one reservation: the oven should be lined with aluminum foil because this spatters like crazy due to the high heat. has this stopped me from making it? of course not. but a little precaution will save hours of oven cleaning.

now i'll try with ginger scallion sauce. but the gravy option is kinda it.

I would love to have some of that chicken!

We'll try it, but my husband's roast chicken is the best! You mention teaching your son to woo his sweetheart w/roast chicken and I thought of Ed’s chicken and how consistently wonderful it is. His salmon too.

It’s all about the spice mixture (from his mother, Russian Jewish ancestry): paprika, granulated garlic, salt, pepper, chili powder. That’s the basic idea. Sometimes we add cumin, thyme.

And then he cooks it back-side up, which I always thought was the “wrong” way, but then the breast meat is incredibly moist. He might also use a lower temp (~400). I know we lose the skin of the breast meat side, but the back has its own tasty bits.

I think I'll this recipe with my son, so that he can cook it for me. Yes, I'm that lazy in the kitchen, although I just might be able to handle this recipe.

Tried the chicken. Too salty on the outside, but amazing on the inside. Like some people.

My high heat crispy skin comes stuffed with lemon and sage, but I am delighted at the prospect of a chicken that unabashedly tastes like chicken.

Here's to teaching young Jewish folk to woo their future loves with Roast Chicken. My girls and I have been doing challah for a while, and there's nothing like it :)

p.s. The writing is as exquisite as the food :)

This looks so good.

If you're not looking to make gravy I recommend spatchcocking (butterflying) the chicken. While not as attractive it stays moist and cooks faster and more evenly. Great on the grill also.

Forgot to mention this great book.
Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef

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