Roast Chicken: Have No Fear!

For some reason, roasting poultry has a bit of a reputation as being a terrifyingly difficult endeavor. The first time I cooked a turkey for Thanksgiving I was so nervous, but it actually turned out to be much easier than I thought and tasted absolutely delicious. Now my roast chickens are one of our favorite dinners. Sure, they take a little more prep work than most meals I cook, but the payoff is totally worth it.

The recipe I use for turkey is from The Thanksgiving Table by Diane Morgan. I highly recommend it for the upcoming holiday, especially since used copies of the book are available for under a dollar! I’ve adapted it for chickens, and the results are juicy and so flavorful. If you’re hosting a small gathering and don’t want to deal with an entire turkey (and weeks of leftovers!), this would be a perfect substitute. However, you don’t have to wait for a special occasion to make it.


  • 1 whole roasting chicken, thawed and giblets removed
  • 4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butter
  • 2 lemons
  • 2 small onions or shallots
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • several sprigs of fresh sage, rosemary, and thyme
  • salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a small bowl or ramekin (in the microwave is fine). Cut one lemon in half and squeeze one half into the butter, reserving the other half for later (be careful not to get any seeds in the butter). Mince 4-5 sage leaves and the leaves from one sprig each of rosemary and thyme, and add to the butter mixture. Finely chop 1 or 2 garlic cloves (or more if you like!) and either 1/2 a shallot or one slice of onion and add to the lemon. Set aside, then quarter the remaining lemons and onions and peel the rest of your garlic and set aside as well.

Preheat oven to 350° and move racks low enough that the chicken will fit easily. If you have a small roasting pan use that, or line a 1″ deep baking dish with foil and add a wire rack. Rinse the chicken inside and out, pat dry, and place breast side down on the rack. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then rub about a third of the butter/herb mix over the skin. Flip breast side up, sprinkle with more salt and pepper, then rub another third of the butter on this side, making sure to coat the wings and drumsticks as well. Slide your fingers under the skin on the breast to make a pocket, then pour in the remaining butter (melt more if needed, just be careful to let it cool enough that you don’t get burned). Make sure you get some of the onions and herbs in there! (Best part – since you’re putting butter directly on the meat you don’t even have to baste as it cooks!)

Next stuff the cavity with the garlic cloves, chunks of lemon and onion, and a couple sprigs of each of the herbs we used earlier. Tuck the wing tips under the neck end of the bird so they don’t burn, or truss it if you know how. Put it in the oven and set the timer for 1 hour. When the timer goes off, check and see if the skin is getting too crispy or cooking unevenly. If one side is darker than the other, you should rotate the pan 180°; if it’s starting to burn, tent it loosely with more foil. I also usually check the temperature at this point to see how it’s doing. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh; when it reaches 120° you’re about half an hour from it being done. Total cook time should be about 20 minutes per pound, but mine always cook faster so keep an eye on it (last week I made a 6 lb bird in 95 minutes, go figure). When the thigh temp reaches 160°, you can pull it out of the oven. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, most store-bought birds come with a pop-up timer you can watch, and the drumstick should move easily in its socket when it’s done.

Let sit for at least 10-15 minutes before carving so the juices can absorb into the meat. Use a fork to remove the onions and such from the cavity and discard them. I totally suck at carving the chicken without it looking like it got mauled, so I’ve attached a very helpful video from Gourmet Magazine’s test kitchen below. She makes it look so easy! The skin will be covered in crispy bits of onion and garlic and herbs, so make sure you try it even if you don’t usually like the skin. Leftovers should keep in the fridge for 5-7 days, though you’ll probably devour them long before that.

See? Not that scary or complicated, was it?

roasted turkey cooked with the above recipe

Yes, this is a turkey, but I used the same recipe.

This post originally appeared on Persephone Magazine on November 8, 2011.

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