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Foolproof Roast Chicken
with Its Own Pan Sauce

serves 4

By some mysterious chemistry, roasting a chicken with a lemon in its cavity guarantees crisp skin, moist, flavorful flesh, and abundant pan juices, with no added fat — in short, everything one could ask of a roast chicken. The more “natural” the bird, the more flavor, so start with a hormone-free, free–range bird, increasingly available in supermarkets.

1/4 teaspoon olive oil
One 3–pound roasting chicken, rinsed and patted dry (neck and giblets reserved)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, thyme, and/or savory leaves, in any combination
3 garlic cloves: 1 crushed, 2 lightly smashed
1 large lemon, washed
2 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
2 shallots, cut lengthwise in half
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 cup Madeira or dry white wine, or a mixture of the two

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place a 4–by–4–inch square of foil or parchment in a roasting pan and brush lightly with oil. Set aside.

With a thin sharp knife, cut the excess fat from the neck and hind cavity of the chicken and discard. Sprinkle the chicken evenly inside and out with the salt and pepper, rubbing it into the skin. Stuff the herb leaves and the crushed garlic clove into the cavity. Prick the lemon about 25 times with a toothpick or skewer. Stuff it into the cavity of the chicken. Using toothpicks or trussing needles, pin the neck and hind cavities closed, or truss the chicken with cotton string (see page 678).

Place the chicken breast side down on the foil in the roasting pan. Nestle the neck and giblets, carrots, shallots, smashed garlic cloves, and thyme sprigs around the chicken. Roast for 15 minutes.

Turn the chicken breast side up and carefully remove the foil. Roast for 20 minutes longer. Increase the oven temperature to 400°F. Roast the chicken for 20 to 25 minutes longer, until the skin is brown and crisp and the juices run clear when the part of the thigh nearest the body is pricked with a kitchen fork. An instant–read thermometer inserted in the thigh should read 160° to 170°F, in the breast, 150°F. Remove the toothpick or twine from the hind end. Lift the chicken with two wooden spoons and tilt it slightly so the juices run out of the cavity into the pan (discard the lemon and herbs). Place the chicken on a warm platter.

Pour the pan juices into a small measuring cup and let settle for 3 to 4 minutes. Carefully skim the fat off the surface with a tablespoon. Pour the juices back into the roasting pan, set it over moderate heat, and add the Madeira. Simmer, stirring to dissolve the browned bits on the bottom of the pan, until the alcohol has cooked off, about 5 minutes. Skim off any fat or scum that rises to the surface. Strain the sauce into a small bowl, and taste for seasoning. (You will have about 1/2 cup.)

Carve the chicken and pour any juices that have collected on the platter into the sauce. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the sauce over each portion of chicken.

I always serve roasted chicken with the crisp skin and let my guests decide if they want to eat it or not. I personally like the option of indulging occasionally in the delicious skin. One ounce of cooked chicken skin (from about one quarter of a roasting chicken) adds an additional 110 calories per serving (most of it in fat).

butterflied roast chicken. If you are in a hurry, you can butterfly the bird, removing the backbone and then opening the bird out and flattening it (see page 678). Omit the lemon and lay the chicken on a bed of the herb leaves (or place some under the skin) and the other aromatics. Place skin side up on a rack in a roasting pan and roast at 500°F for about 45 minutes.

adding flavorings under the skin

Sliding flavorings under the chicken skin is a great way to infuse a chicken with flavor. Leaves of soft fresh herbs, such as sage and tarragon, or whole imported bay leaves, spice pastes, and rubs (see Flavor Essences and Dry Rubs, pages 541–552) all work well.