Preheat the oven to 450°F.
Dry the chicken very well with paper towels, inside and out. Salt and pepper the cavity, then truss the bird with twine. Trussing is not hard, and you really can wing it – or you can watch the videos here, or elsewhere on the Web. In any case, the idea is that the wings and legs stay close to the body, and the meaty part of the drumsticks cover the top of the breast and keep it from drying out. I am not a pro trusser, but as long as I tie the legs together and keep them tucked up tight, I figure I’m fine.
Now, salt the chicken. Thomas Keller likes to “rain” the salt over the bird, so that it has a nice uniform coating that will result in a crisp, salty, flavorful skin. He uses about 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. I didn’t measure mine. You should use enough that, when it’s cooked, you should still be able to make out the salt baked onto the crisp skin. Season to taste with pepper, if you want. I don’t usually pepper my roasted chickens.
Place the chicken breast-up in a sauté pan or roasting pan. Slide it into the oven. Keller says to leave it alone — no basting, no added fat. Roast it until a thermometer stuck in the meatiest part of the thigh registers 165°F, 40 to 60 minutes. (I use a Thermapen: not cheap, but a little bit life-changing.) Remove it from the oven, and add the thyme, if using, to the pan. Spoon the juices and thyme over the chicken, and let it rest for 15 minutes on a cutting board.
Remove the twine. Carve or cut into pieces, however you like. The preparation is not meant to be fancy. Slather the still-hot meat with butter. Serve with mustard on the side.
Yield: enough for 2 to 4 people