March 8, 2011

Easiest Roasted Chicken with Lemon and Herbs

Fewer things are more comforting than a dinner starring a roasted chicken.  It makes your house smell like home while it is roasting, and if cooked just right, it delivers satisfaction time and again. 

I have attacked the process of chicken roasting in numerous ways trying to find the best technique.  Being one who tends to make things more complicated than necessary, I have always felt a need to carefully truss the bird and make a big mess in the kitchen.  Trussing helps to ensure a moister chicken, but laziness and lack of time have proved it to be unnecessary. 

Another method for creating a moist bird that has delivered great success came from an Ina Garten recipe.  Her recipe called for the chicken to be roasted with bacon strips and butter over the top.  Decadent and delicious with great smokey flavor and crispy skin, but does not work well if you are trying to make a healthy meal.

The recipe I have made most consistently for the past few years came from the editors of Cook's Illustrated.  They found that the secret to keeping the meat moist came from roasting at a low temperature in a dutch oven with it's lid firmly in place.  This technique produced a delicious chicken and oodles of cooking juices to make a tasty sauce.  Sadly, you were still left with a somewhat anemic looking bird with rubbery skin.  I am not a big fan of crispy skin so it worked well.  Nonetheless, this technique still required browning of both sides of the chicken on the stove before it went in the oven. 

I wanted a recipe that required no work, no technique, and no mess.  In order to achieve success, I had to let go of everything I fussed with before.  No trussing, no layers of fat, and no browning.  The result was just what I was after; a moist chicken loaded with flavor and a crispy golden skin.  I believe that the key to the triumph is roasting it in a cast iron dutch oven without the lid.  The chicken being nestled deep in the pot keeps it from drying out while still allowing the air to circulate  enough to crisp and brown the skin.

Easiest Roasted Chicken with Lemon and Herbs

Serves 4

For all ingredients, please consider using those that are organic.


whole chicken (organic, hormone and antibiotic free)

Have your butcher clean the innards from the chicken before you bring it home to save time and mess.

2 lemons, halved and quartered
1 bulb garlic, broken into cloves
8 sprigs fresh rosemary
12 sprigs fresh thyme
  olive oil
  sea salt
  freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

I try to do all of the preparation for the chicken in the dutch oven including the removal of the innards.  Raw chicken is such a messy bit of business to deal with, and this recipe is all about making life easier.  If your chicken has already had all of the innards removed and cleaned out by your butcher, all the better.

I like to use a 7 quart oval Le Creuset pot.  If you do not own this kitchen workhorse, use a stockpot of a similar size.

Put the chicken into the pot.  Generously douse the chicken inside the cavity and out with olive oil.  Again, using generous proportions, sprinkle the salt and pepper inside and out.  Rub the ingredients into the bird so it is well seasoned.  Bend the wings back and tuck them under the bird.

Sliced the blossom end of the garlic bulb off to separate the cloves.  Do not peel the cloves, but do remove the extra white papery pieces from the skin. 

Stuff the cavity of the seasoned bird with the garlic cloves, prepared lemons, and fresh herbs.  Whatever does not fit in the chicken, toss into the pot.  Give another liberal sprinkling of salt and pepper and put the pot into the preheated oven.   

It should cook for 1-1 1/2 hours depending on the size of the chicken.  Use a meat thermometer to sporadically check the temperature of the meat.  When the temperature of the meat is between 170-180 F, remove it from the oven.

Allow it to rest for 10-20 minutes before carving.  Use this time to prepare a sauce with the drippings or finish off the garlic.

If you are feeling ambitious, pour the cooking juices into a measuring cup and put it in the freezer to encourage the separation of the fat.  Remove as much of the fat from the top of the juices as you are able, and heat the cooking juices for a few minutes.  It will not take much more than this to make a nice sauce for serving.  If you want to take an extra few minutes, strain the juices and add the juice of half a lemon before heating them, and stir in a tablespoon of unsalted butter to finish it off.

If you are a lover of garlic, remove the cloves from the cavity of the cooked chicken and spread onto a piece of aluminum foil.  Put them into the oven and roast for 10-20 minutes while preparing the sauce and carving the chicken.

Categories: Poultry

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