My Go-to Roast Chicken

I roast A LOT of chickens. Roasted chickens are delicious, economical, and I can use the leftovers in a million and one different ways—not mention the fact that then you can use the bones for stock.

There are probably as many ways to roast a chicken as there are ways to use them. (The New York Times does a really good job of listing the pros and cons of different methods here.) I alter the seasonings and method of roasting to suit my goals for a particular dinner and what I’m serving; however, this is definitely the method I come back to most often. This recipe combines the basic techniques for roasting chicken I learned in culinary school, combined with a few revelations from Jacques Pepin’s Essential Pepin, along with a bit of my own flare. Namely, I make a compound butter to add lots of flavor. (See my recent post on compound butters.)

Rotating the chicken throughout—the major bit I took from Essential Pepin—takes a bit of work and keeps you coming back and forth to the oven, however, you end up with a really juicy chicken. It kind of mimics a rotisserie and keeps the juices in the bird moving so that it stays moist throughout, even if you overshoot the cooking a bit. Moving the chicken can be a little awkward, especially with bigger chickens, so be careful. It’s helpful to prop the chicken against the side of the pan. I might also use a rolled up piece of foil to stabilize it on the other side. If I have onion or lemon halves leftover from some other use, I sometimes use those to help prop the chicken up. (Note as well that you might need to adjust your oven racks to accommodate the chicken on its side.)

I’ve included the basic recipe for a sauce I often make with this chicken, however, it’s really optional. If you don’t feel up to playing saucier for the evening you can certainly bypass all of that and serve the chicken with its drippings, just allow them to settle and skim off excess fat and any excessively blackened bits.

You’ll note that I give a pretty wide range for the amount of stock in the recipe. This is because I find this ranges quite a bit depending the type of stock. If I’m using a homemade stock—ours tend to be quite concentrated and rich—I find I don’t need as much to achieve a deep flavor. On the other hand, if I’m using store-bought stock, I might reduce it quite a bit in order to deepen the flavor, since these version can sometimes taste a little thin. If you have an extra pot and burner you can start reducing the stock in advance while the chicken is cooking.

In either case, if you’re chicken comes with the neck included with the giblets, you can use that to intensify the sauce. (You can use the giblets as well, but note that they will have a stronger flavor.) Brown the neck in the pan before you make the roux for maximum flavor, then deglaze and proceed with the rest of the recipe from there.

I’d recommend pulling chicken out about an hour before you plan to cook it, so as to bring to room temperature so that cooks more quickly. Dry it well with paper towels so that the compound butter can better bind to it and so you get maximum browning.

As far trussing the chicken—if you don't know how to truss, don't worry too much about it. Frankly, I'm pretty lazy on this count. That said, you don't want the items stuffed into the cavity to stay in the cavity—just tying the legs together with kitchen twine tends to work for me. Use whatever method you prefer to turn that chicken into a lady and keep her legs closed.

If you’re looking for a wine to pair with dinner, a Chardonnay makes for a classic pairing. A roast chicken can even handle a little oak thanks to those lightly toasted flavors from the crisped skin. However, in this case, since we’ve got lemon and herb flavors in play as well, I like a crisp Sauvignon Blanc like this Michel Redde Pouilly-Fumé La Moynerie 2012.

If you find yourself with leftovers—one of the best parts of making a large chicken—try using them to make my most recent 8 & $20: Creamy Chicken and Vegetable Crepes.

Photo Credit: Greg Hudson.

Herb-Butter Roast Chicken with Lemon-Herb Sauce


For the Chicken

1 Roasting Chicken (About 4 to 4.5 lbs–Of course you can use whatever size you have, you may just need to adjust the cooking times. Pepin calls for a 3.5 lb bird with the same cooking times, but I tend to find similar timing for birds of this size.)
2 Tbsp Herb-Lemon-Garlic Butter
½ lemon
½ onion
2-3 garlic cloves
4-5 herb sprigs of your choosing (Thyme and Parsley are always good basics)
Cooking oil
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Cooking Twine

For the Sauce

1-2 Tbsp Herb-Lemon-Garlic Butter
2 Tbsp flour
½ to ¾ quart chicken stock
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Optional variations:

1-2 tsp mustard
Additional herbs of choice


For the Chicken

1. Preheat oven to 425°F.

2. Rub the chicken well with the Herb-Lemon-Garlic Butter, making sure to coat the whole chicken well, working a generous amount under the skin, as well as adding a dollop inside the cavity.

3. Add the lemon, onion, garlic cloves, and herb sprigs to the chicken cavity. Truss the chicken or simply bind legs with cooking twine. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the chicken skin.

4. Heat cooking oil in a large, oven-safe pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the chicken, breast side down. Sear chicken on all sides until golden brown.

5. Arrange the chicken onto its side and transfer to the oven. Roast for 20 minutes, then rotate to its other side and roast for an additional 20 minutes. Finally, rotate the chicken onto its back, baste with cooking fats, and cook for another 20-30 minutes or until an internal read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of thigh reads between 150-160°F.

Note: If I’m making a larger bird of about 5 to 5.5 lbs, I’ll add a fourth rotation. I’ll start the chicken breast side down, then proceed with the rest of the rotations as indicated.

6. Transfer the chicken to a platter and allow it to rest for at least 10 minutes.

For the Sauce

1.  Transfer the drippings from the pan to a separate container and set aside, straining out any blackened bits.

2. Wipe out any remaining really black bits form the pan—brown bits are a good thing, but black scorched bits will turn the sauce bitter. Return the pan to the stove, then deglaze pan with wine (if using) or a couple of tablespoons of water or chicken stock. Add Herb-Lemon-Garlic Butter to the pan and melt over medium heat, then add the flour. Stir to incorporate and create a roux, then cook until starting to smell lightly toasted.

(Note: If cooking fat is still in good condition, you can also use some that for the roux in place of some of the butter.)

3. Gradually whisk in the chicken stock along with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Add the lemon juice to taste and mustard if using. Once the chicken drippings have settled, skim off and discard the majority of the fat, then add to the sauce, as well as any juices that may have accumulated from the resting chicken.  Cook the sauce until it reduces and thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon

4. Once thickened, adjust the seasoning, adding more salt, pepper, lemon juice or wine as desired. Remove from heat, then swirl in any additional herbs, if using. A little extra pat of butter added at this point can also help smooth over an harsh edges from the acids and can create a creamier, more luxurious mouthfeel.

To Serve:

Carve chicken into pieces and top with the sauce.

I'd love to hear about your personal spins on roast chicken and your favorite ways to use up the leftovers. Cheers!

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