Every cook has her favorite way to roast chicken. Here’s mine.
I know, I know, it’s June. Not exactly chicken-roasting weather. But this chicken has such a bright flavor that I think it goes perfectly with other summer fare. Plus it’s good cold, the next day.
I discovered this method last summer when I was cooking a lot of recipes from Marcella Hazan, that lovingly bossy authority of Italian cuisine. Lemons are pierced all over and stuffed into the cavity of a well-seasoned chicken, releasing their juices during the roast.
Signora Hazan calls for whole lemons but no lemons I can find are small enough that I can fit more than one inside the bird. I cut them in half or quarters, and the result is just as good. She also stitches the cavity shut and ties the legs together so that they don’t spread and cause the skin to break during roasting. These are nice touches if you are going to present the chicken at the table, but by no means necessary.
Buy the best quality chicken you can afford. The cheap supermarket chickens have loads of water in them (among other things). Look for organic or free-range birds with the words “no extra water” on the label.
Salt is important. Use plenty, and rub it all over the chicken, inside and out. If you have time, let the salted chicken sit in the fridge, loosely covered, for as long as you can before roasting. Just make sure to bring it up toward room temperature before putting it in the oven.
A roasting rack is useful but not necessary. In any case use the smallest pan that will fit the chicken, to consolidate the juices. Some people start the chicken at a lower temperature and turn it up at the end, and some do the reverse. I have good results keeping the oven at 400 the whole time. A 3-4 pound chicken will take about an hour.
To savor the crisp skin, eat the chicken as soon as possible after roasting. With time it will soften as the moist bird cools. The pan juices are delicious, so be sure to pour some over the carved meat.
Lemony Roast Chicken
(Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking)
a 3-4 pound chicken, preferably organic
salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Rinse the chicken, inside and out under cool water, and dry thoroughly with paper towels. (Not eco-friendly, I know, but you don’t want to mess around with raw chicken)
2. Rub the chicken inside and out with a generous amount of salt and pepper. If you are not going to roast the chicken right away, put it in the fridge loosely covered, for several hours or overnight. Remove it from the fridge an hour or so before roasting.
3. Scrub the lemons. If they are small enough to fit whole in the cavity of the chicken, pierce them all over with a fork or tip of a knife and put them inside the bird. If they are too big to leave whole, cut the lemons in half or quarters, no piercing necessary.
4. Put the chicken on a roasting pan, breast down, and place in the preheated oven. Roast about 30 minutes and then carefully turn it over to finish cooking. Total cooking time will be about an hour, but start checking it at the 50 minute mark. When it’s done the skin should be golden and crisp and a thermometer inserted into thickest part of the thigh will read 160°.
5. Carve the meat and serve with the pan juices.
Serves 2 generously