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.
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 (I usually mush some minced garlic and lemon zest into the butter first). Rub any remaining butter all over the outside of the chicken, and season with salt & fresh-ground pepper.
4. Cut a lemon in half and push it into the cavity (this will release a lovely, subtle lemonly flavor into the chicken, and fill up the cavity for a prettier presentation). You can also stuff a few garlic cloves and some herbs (try thyme or rosemary) in the cavity along with the lemon.
5. Roast at 425 for 1:15-1:40, 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…or do what I do and just make a small slit in the breast meat to check). I usually buy a 3-4lb chicken, which takes about an hour and twenty minutes.
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/lemon/garlic mixture. (That’s more or less my recipe for Lemony Engagement Chicken, which never fails me.)