It is hard to think of a dish more homey, more loved, or more downright impressive than a roasted chicken.
It is also hard to think of a dish that is cheaper or easier to make.
See, people love roast chicken. It reminds them of their childhoods, cooking Friday night dinner with their Grandmas. It reminds them of coming home from college on winter break and sneaking down to the kitchen and making the world’s sloppiest midnight sandwiches, thrilled to have fresh, homemade food instead of ramen noodles. It reminds them of that one time that all three Back to the Future movies were on and they ate the remainder of the bird with their hands, stopping only for swigs of root beer.
A whole chicken is MUCH less expensive than one cut into parts, and by roasting the entire bird you get SO much more flavor than you do if you just cook a couple of skinless breasts. And speaking of the skin…embrace it here. Whomever doesn’t eat this perfectly crispy, salty, awesome skin…I pity da fool.
One 4 lb. chicken, rinsed and well dried
2 lemons, 1 quartered and 1 sliced into thin rounds
The zest of both lemons
1 large Vidalia onion, sliced into thin rounds
1 cup total of chopped mint, thyme, rosemary, savory, and dried oregano (only use a bit of the oregano – most should be the fresh herbs. Also feel free to mix it up here – basil, marjoram, cilantro…go to town!)
1/4 cup olive oil
Quite a bit of salt and pepper, to taste
1. Preheat oven to 420F and place half of the lemons and all of the onions in a roasting pan. Pour the olive oil over the chicken and rub it all over the chicken. Then, put the chicken on top of the onions and lemons, breast side up. 2. Throw the herbs, zest, and salt and pepper all over the chicken – top, bottom, and sides. You don’t need to rub them in, but be sure that the entire chicken is really liberally coated.
3. Stuff the lemons and any remaining herbs inside the chicken, and toss it in the oven for about an hour and a half, or until the chicken leg easily separates form the body, and runs only clear juices when pierced with a fork. You can always use a meat thermometer if you feel uncomfortable deciding when the chicken is done.
When it is golden atop and there are amazing smells, it’s probably done. If it starts browning too fast, throw a tinfoil tent over the pan - this prevents further browning and lets the chicken continue to cook. I often flip the chicken on its breast to continue cooking without browning, but that’s up to you.
4. When the chicken comes out of the oven, let it rest under a foil tent for about 30 minutes or until it is cool enough to handle (I will address carving in a future post). Then, carve the chicken off of the carcass.
And you really, really will enjoy this. The chicken is incredibly juicy with crispy, salty, herb-flecked skin. The juices saturate the onions, turning them sweet and soft. The lemons are also edible – they become savory and very mild, as they absorb the flavor of the chicken. I often pull my chicken out of the oven when it is still BARELY rosy, then let it continue to cook under its foil tent. That’s because there is nothing worse than dried out chicken (unless, of course, it’s raw chicken…so make sure that before you serve it, the meat is indeed totally opaque). The herbs really set this apart – by totally slathering them on the bird, you get wonderful pops of flavor in addition to the moist, succulent texture. Serve this with mashed potatoes or rice and there won’t be even a wing left for you at the end of the night.
This meal really does taste like coming home.