A roast chicken is a dish everyone should know how to prepare well and have in their repertoire. It is often a true test of a restaurant's chops. There are so many different ways to successfully roast a bird. This is the method that has worked consistently for me over the years and never disappoints.
Ingredients (serves 4):
-1 whole, 3-4 pound, free-range chicken
-1 lemon, cut in half
-8 sage leaves
-4 sprigs of thyme
-salt & pepper
-unsalted butter, room temperature
If possible buy the chicken 1-2 days prior to roasting. Pat the bird dry with paper towels if it is a bit wet. Season aggressively on all sides and inside the cavity with salt and pepper. Carefully--with a knife or with your fingers--pull open the breast skin. Stuff the sage leaves and thyme under the skin. Use a butter knife to carefully push the herbs farther up into and under the breast and evenly distribute. Place on a platter, uncovered, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days. The time spent in the refrigerator will help dry-cure the bird and will make for the most crispy of skin.
Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. Take the bird out of the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature (1-2 hours). Rub the room temperature butter all over the bird in generous quantities. Insert the lemon into the cavity and tie the legs together with butcher twine.
Place the bird, breast-side up, into a cast iron pan or similar roasting pan and roast in the oven for 25 minutes. Take the pan out and flip the bird over. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Roast for an additional 30-35 minutes. Flip the bird once more and roast another 10-20 minutes or until the bird is nicely browned and has an internal temperature of approximately 150 degrees.
Remove the bird to a cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest for 15-20 minutes before carving.
I like serving roasted carrots and potatoes to go with the chicken. Peel the carrots and cut up the potatoes and blanch them in salted, boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain and place into the roasting dish under the chicken with a drizzle of olive oil. Each time you flip the bird toss the vegetables to ensure even browning. I some times add raw mushrooms during the last 20 minutes of cooking.
I love serving my bird with bread croutons soaked in all the chicken fat. Buy a good quality Italian batard or ciabatta and cut up into 2 inch pieces. Heat some olive oil in a saute pan over high heat and add the bread. Drizzle with more olive oil. Season the croutons with a bit of coarse salt and sprinkle some chopped parsley over the top. Brown the bread on both sides and set aside.
During the last 15 minutes of roasting your bird add the croutons to the roasting pan and mix well with the juices and vegetables. Make a lot of croutons as your guests will not be able to stop eating them. Trust me.
James is a food writer and Bay Area chef who owns and runs a private dinner party and cooking class business specializing in regional Italian and Spanish cuisine. See CookWithJames.com