How to Make Perfect Roast Chicken

Celebrated Montreal chef Derek Dammann shares his advice for a classic winter dish.

By: Jeremy Freed

Derek Dammann grew up on Vancouver Island, trained under Jamie Oliver in London and made his mark on Canadian cuisine in Montreal. His restaurant, Maison Publique (which he opened with Oliver’s help in 2012) was an instant hit and remains one of the highest-rated establishments in the city. With fine dining at Maison Publique on hold for the moment (a small take-out menu and wine selection are available via their website), Dammann has taken over the kitchen at another one of Montreal’s leading restaurants, McKiernan Luncheonette. In a menu focused on classic comfort food dishes like pork schnitzel and pasta in rosé vodka sauce, McKiernan Luncheonette’s roast chicken (served with fries and “hot chicken” sauce) is a clear standout, and the perfect thing to enjoy on a cold, dark winter evening. For those of us unable to partake in McKiernan Luncheonette’s takeout or delivery options, Dammann shared his surprisingly simple instructions for preparing this dish at home.

Why did you choose to give roast chicken such a prominent place on your menu at McKiernan Luncheonette?

Roast chicken, and rotisseries in general, have always held a special place in all of our hearts. When we were setting out to open McKiernan, we were throwing around lots of ideas, but the one thing that we always came back to was the humble roast chicken and all of its possibilities.

Walk me through the process. How do you make the perfect roast chicken?

I don't know about perfect, but it sure is delicious. We do have a process to get the result that we were looking for, and it is not complicated at all. Just a little TLC and you are good to go. First, we brine our chickens for 24 hours in a 3% solution of salt, honey, aromatics and water. We then dry the chickens for 48 hours by letting them sit uncovered in the refrigerator near the fan on wire racks-this will allow the skin to air dry naturally, giving us a nice golden-brown finish. Then we simply slow roast them in our rotisserie oven. Less is more, showcasing the main ingredient is always at the forefront of our menu planning.

What do you most like to serve (and eat) it with?

Crisp fries, warm buns, fresh salad and rich gravy—what more do you really need?

What's the broader philosophy behind the food you make at McKiernan?

We have since day one worked directly with our farming families and friends to create delicious food that is rooted in fun and memory. Pair that with our debonair service and gorgeous space, and let’s just say it makes it easy to come to work every day.

What advice can you offer for entertaining at home this season?

Wear a mask!! It's like singing happy birthday: if everybody in the room isn't doing it, it won't work.

You can see what Derek Dammann is up to at McKiernan at @mckiernanmtl. Takeout and delivery available Wednesday to Sunday from Noon to 8:30pm.

Jeremy Freed is a Toronto-based freelance journalist. His writing about menswear, travel, design and sustainability appears in Sharp, GQ, the Globe and Mail and many more.