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Jun 9, 2007 09:40 AM

My Own Perfect Roast Chicken


Given another roast chicken came out beautifully this week – and given the ease! – I figured I would dive into the eternal Roast Chicken debate and throw out my own recipe, cribbed from a variety of places. As capeanne wrote below in her chicken post, never a scrap left.

First let me say I just love a great roast chicken. When done right, there are few things better in the world. Over the years, in a personal quest for the perfect roast chicken, I have tried just about every method there is … brining, slow cooking at low temps, turning the chicken on its side then on its breast during the roasting time in the oven, searing it first, etc, etc. Each way has its pros and cons, each way taught me something. I’ve finally come to the conclusion, however, now proven out many times, that there is a simple, easy way to make a perfect roast chicken that doesn’t involve a ton of drama. The only real work with my method comes from making your own preserved lemons (recipe included below). But even preserving your own lemons is extremely easy, and once you have a container of preserved lemons in your fridge, you can have this roast chicken any day of the week. (You’ll also then have these lemons for months, to use in a variety of ways. I am never without them anymore, they are so terrific and so versatile.)

Here then is my method, which stems in a large part from Barbara Kafka’s book ROASTING, a book I highly, highly recommend.

Notes: I don’t brine. Sure, it might make it even better. But this chicken is already so terrific, it just doesn’t seem worth the effort. And a highlight of this recipe is ease. If you have the time to season the chicken a few hours before you cook it, excellent. But if you are in a rush and must season it then immediately put it in the oven, it will still turn out well. I don’t have set amounts of seasonings and vegetables because I never do it exactly the same, which is another reason this recipe is so easy. Just have fun with it. When you make it this way, taste your preserved lemons to see how salty they are. Each batch comes out a little differently. If they are a batch that has a lot of salt to the taste, you won’t need to add much salt, if any, to the chicken.

Also, I always roast my chicken with vegetables. Potatoes, carrots and onions in the roasting pan are wonderful with the butter and chicken fat and herbs. You can certainly roast it alone, though; the recipe remains the same.

1 large chicken (the higher quality, the better)
Preserved Lemons
1 onion
4 - 6 cloves of garlic, both chopped and whole
herbs (I use thyme and sage)
salt and pepper

2 potatoes, cut in large pieces
3 carrots, cut in 2 inch pieces or 12-14 smaller carrots, whole
2 yellow onions, peeled and cut into quarters or about 10 cipollini onions

Season the chicken:

(I’ve made these directions lengthy, to make sure they are clear. But this takes about 5 minutes tops if all the ingredients are ready)

Rinse the chicken inside and out with water, then pat dry. Liberally pepper the inside of the chicken, the rub the inside of the chicken with a lot of the ‘goop’ from your preserved lemons. Then add to the chicken cavity: 1 onion quartered, 2 or 3 slices of the preserved lemon, 2 or 3 whole cloves of garlic, a few sprigs of Thyme and Sage or whatever herb you choose to use.

Place the chicken on a platter if you have time to let it sit after you season it. If not, go ahead and put it in the roasting pan. (I like to use a large cast iron skillet. I have an enormous one that works wonderfully, but a regular roasting pan is fine.) Work your fingers underneath the breast skin, taking care not to tear the skin. You just want to gently pull the skin away from the breast meat. As you do so, work your fingers down the sides of the breast as well. When the skin has pulled away, take more ‘goop’ from the preserved lemons and rub it underneath the skin, onto the meat. Then add chopped garlic and thyme leaves. Bring your fingers out and massage the skin from the top, spreading the lemon and garlic and thyme all around, under the skin, massaging the skin back into place.

Take more of the ‘goop’ from the preserved lemons and rub it all over the chicken. Liberally sprinkle pepper all over the chicken, then sprinkle thyme leaves, chopped sage (or herb of choice) and little dots of butter all over the chicken. At this point, you can put the chicken in the fridge to sit for a couple of hours, making sure to remove it about an hour before you cook it, so it is at room temperature when you put it in the oven. Or, you can go ahead and cook it right away. Scatter the chopped vegetables all around the chicken in the pan right before you put it in the oven, adding salt, pepper, herbs and dots of butter to the veggies as well.

Cooking the chicken:

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Your cooking time is based on weight, about 10 minutes per pound. I cooked a 4-pounder last night. I left it in the over for 40 minutes, then let it sit out of the oven for about ten more minutes, and it was perfect. Just base the time on the chicken weight. In a 500 degree oven, with ten minutes per pound and ten minutes to sit after you pull it out of the oven, it comes out exactly right every time. The only time you even need to open the oven is if you want to turn the veggies, so they get a little crispy. But you can also just stick it in the oven, close the door, turn on the timer and not worry about it. No turning the chicken side to side, no changing the temperature up and down… it is so easy and so, so good. With a green salad and some bread on the side, it’s an incredible, easy meal.

PRESERVED LEMONS (I always double this recipe, I use them so much.)

2 lemons, preferably organic
1/3 cup Coarse Sea Salt
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
About 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Scrub the lemons and dry them well. Cut each lemon lengthwise into 8 wedges. In a bowl, toss the lemon wedges, salt and lemon juice to coat the fruit. Transfer to a 2-cup glass container with a non-metal lid. Close the container tightly and let the lemons ripen at room temperature for 7 days. She the container daily to evenly distribute the salt and juices. To store, add olive oil to cover and keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

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  1. Wow- sounds easy. But- is there a lot of smoke due to the high temp- and does the oven get all splattered? I am going to make some preserved lemons tomorrow, and will try the roast chicken next week. Wish i had seen this last week- it is chilly and rainy today- a great day for a roasted chicken dinner. Thanks

    7 Replies
    1. re: macca

      I have never had a problem with smoke, though I will add my oven has a good vent. I cook so much in my oven, it is always a mess (grin). I don't know how much the roast chicken contributes to it.

      I am glad you are trying the lemons. If you still want a roast chicken tonight, just follow this recipe but use melted butter (a lot!) in place of the preserved lemons, adding a couple of lemons quartered in the cavity and a little lemon juice on the outside of the chicken. It will still be very good. And then try it again once your preserved lemons are ready.

      1. re: Tom P

        Nope- I am waiting til next week with the preserved lemons- sounds so good I want to use your recipe! i have a cast iron skillet that is large enough, too. Will line the bottom with potatoes as CHamseter suggests, too.

        1. re: macca

          Let us know how it goes. And doing the potatoes CHamseter's way sounds great. I'dd add some onions on top, maybe, quartered, they turn out so good.

        2. re: Tom P

          Wow - what a great recipe! Worth noting I used a bird from the farmers market that had been walking around the day before, but the meat was so moist and tender and tasty prepared this way.

          I didn't have preserved lemons on hand, so I followed your advice and stuffed a few whole ones inside and added a bit of juice on the outside. Aside from that, I used about 2-3 tbsp of unsalted butter in the cavity and under the skin. Massaged (gross, right?) chopped garlic, dried thyme, and the butter under the skin, and topped the whole thing off with a healthy sprinkle of salt.

          I was nervous about cooking the bird at such high heat, but when it was done it was brown and crispy and AMAZING. (And so easy.) Thanks for sharing your recipe!

          1. re: squishface

            hey! I am so glad it worked and you enjoyed it! It has been a couple of months since I've done this, actually... I am going to have to make it again this week.

          2. re: Tom P

            I always have some smoking with this method - I get the fan out and open a few windows - no problem. Would always take the smoke for the results...!

          3. re: macca

            Yes you do get a lot of smoke roasting BK's way, but the results are worth it.

            Just slice up a potato or two very thinly and line the bottom of the roasting pan with the slices -- they will absorb the grease and prevent it from burning

          4. One question, when you say "goop" are you talking about the pulp? Or the oil or what? I happen to have a jar of preserved lemons in the fridge....

            2 Replies
            1. re: prunefeet

              'Goop' ... for me, when I do the preserved lemons, the lemon slices stay relatively whole. By the goop, I mean everything else, the liquid/oil that is quite thick that surrounds the lemon slices. That is what I slide under the skin and then slather all over the outside.

              Let me know if I need to make more sense!

              1. re: Tom P

                Yes it does, thanks! The ones I have right now are not that coopy, which is why I didn't get it. Sounds so good.

            2. Thanks for your post! I have a couple of jars of salted Meyers and I was wondering how to use them in something simple. I'm now looking forward even more to my next roast chicken!

              The one pointer I can offer in return is that ever since I started using a vertical roaster, my chickens have cooked very evenly. The color is uniform all around the bird, and it is a joy to have deliciously moist white meat and dark meat cooked through at the same time. I usually cook at 450F for 40-50 minutes, depending on the size of the bird.

              2 Replies
              1. re: pilinut

                I will have to try a vertical roaster, then! I'll try about anything to get an even better roast chicken. A couple of stupid questions... when using one, what happens to the stuff in the cavity, how does it stay in? And do you still get a good amount of juice/gravy drippings? Can you roast vegetables when you use one?

                1. re: Tom P

                  It isn't as easy to keep stuff in the cavity, but I try. First, I season the chicken a bit more, on the assumption that some of the seasoning will drip off. Then I insert the shell of a lemon half (I usually rub the juice into the chicken and will try it with your salted lemons next!) at the top of the vertical roaster so that the chicken sits higher on the roaster, and so the lemon imparts some of its aroma. I try to keep whatever fresh herbs I am using in the chicken cavity while I insert the roaster, and whatever falls out--well, falls out. Unless the point of the roast chicken is the stuffing, e.g., 40-cloves-of-garlic, or relleno, I honestly don't think I lose anything with vertical roasting.

                  Note: I like to season the inside of my chickens with a paste made of salt, peppercorns, garlic, and herbs. (Will have to try your lemon goop and onion mixed in with that: sounds very promising,) So only the additional herb branches sometimes fall out, Some of the seasoning does come with the drippings, so adjust the seasoning for your veggies to account for this.

                  I usually roast my veggies separately, just because I find it easier to time their cooking that way. And to get more drippings for gravy, I usually add a bit of water and/or white wine to the bottom of the roaster once the drippings start to sizzle.

                  Oh, yes, the other reason I like the chicken to sit a little higher on the vertical roaster is that I don't want the leg squashed against the back of the thigh: I think it makes for better heat distribution. It's fine if the leg is bent and the drumstick touches the pan, but I like to be able to check for done-ness by wiggling the leg a bit. (How do you check?)

                  I hope this helps. Do let me know how it works for you, and if you have any suggestions!

              2. I have a lot of success with spatchcocking.

                1. i came up with something similar - which i got from watching my dad make peking duck by inserting a pump needle to separate the skin from the meat so the skin would crisp up.

                  after patting the skin dry, i separate the skin from the meat but i place sliced onion and depending on my mood some mixture and garlic and rosemary.inside the skin, then rub a light coating of olive oil on the skin with a little salt & pepper.

                  i use a vertical roaster, so i also cut a few slits near the bottom of the bird to let the excess fat drain out.

                  total cooking time of 1 hour, first 10 minutes at 500, remainder at 375 - when i add potatos scrubbed and sliced lengthwise into sixths, light spray coating of olive oil and then seasoning salt - which i do during the ten minutes at 500.

                  the onions come out incredibly sweet.