I’m a big chicken-eater, and love the stuff prepared in lots of different ways. When it comes to roast chicken, however, I really do think that the simpler the better, and tend to work within a pretty basic flavor spectrum involving lemon, garlic, subtle herbs like parsley and lemon thyme, and salty meats like prosciutto. I combine them in a few different ways depending on a) the ingredients I already have in our refrigerator (I’m not running to the store just to make sure there’s some greenery prettying up the cavity), b) time (hey, sometimes Yappy Hour is calling and you just have to get that bird in the oven double-quick) and c) who’s eating the thing along with me.
Last night, I went super-simple, because the goal was to eat some chicken, brussels sprouts, and sweet summer corn side-by-side while watching Quills, and no fuss was needed to make that a better experience (if you’ve never seen Quills, it’s the Geoffrey Rush/Kate Winslet/Joaquin Phoenix film about the Marquis de Sade, and is one of my favorites ever).
For even the most basic roast chicken, there are a few must-dos:
1. Wash the chicken and pat dry – inside and out – with paper towels.
2. Drizzle salt into the cavity.
3. Gently separate the skin covering the breast from the meat, and use your fingers to nudge some softened butter into the gap. Rub any remaining butter all over the outside of the chicken, and season with salt & fresh-ground pepper.
4. Roast at 425 for 1:15-1:45, depending on size of chicken (cut into the skin just under the drumstick to see if the juices run clear; that’ll tell you if it’s done). I usually buy a 3.5-4lb chicken, which takes about an hour and a half.
That’s the most straightforward preparation there is, but I almost always gussy it up a bit by adding 3-4 minced cloves of garlic, 1/2 tsp lemon zest, and a tsp or so of chopped fresh thyme leaves to the butter before pushing it under the skin of the breast, and then stab the lemon a few times with a fork and insert it into the cavity before roasting.
Finally, if guests are coming over for dinner and I want to elicit some oohs and aahs, I make the whole thing more spectacular-looking by adding some chopped prosciutto or bacon to the butter/thyme/lemon/garlic mixture, and pushing some fresh herbs (I like parsley, but your leftover thyme works well too) alongside the lemon (let them stick out a bit for extra drama). That’s more or less my recipe for Lemony Engagement Chicken, which never fails me.
P.S. Finishing off your roast chicken with a slice of fresh-from-Maine blueberry pie (thanks, Mom!) – like we did last night – is always a good thing. The one pictured above is from Harvest & Plate, in Ogunquit, and can be sent as a gift by calling (207) 646-2122.