This is the best method I know for making perfect roast chicken. Even novice and/or terrified cooks find it foolproof, and it has become a staple of many of my friends. By some mysterious chemistry, roasting a chicken with a lemon in its cavity guarantees exceptionally crisp skin, moist, flavorful flesh and abundant pan juices: in short everything one could ask of a roast chicken. I adapted this great technique from a Marcella Hazan recipe I read in bed one night years ago and remembered.

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

You can improvise with flavorings as much as you like. Try the rosemary and balsamic version below OR try slipping leaves of fresh herbs —sage, rosemary, tarragon or whole imported bay leaves — or spice pastes under the skin and inside the cavity before roasting

There are two secrets to great roast chicken. One is to salt the bird as far ahead as you can to allow the salt to disperse uniformly through the flesh and tenderize it. The other is to start with a hormone-free, free-range bird if possible, rather than mass-produced supermarket variety. The more natural the bird, the more flavor it will have, so I make it a point to know nearby sources for the chickens I buy.

Maria Robledo
Maria Robledo

Recipe: Foolproof Roast Chicken with Quick Pan Sauce

I roast the bird breast-side-down for the first 20 minutes so that the juices flow to the breast, and the breast, which takes less time to cook than the legs, is protected from intense oven heat. If you don’t want to bother with it, just roast the bird breast-side-up for 25 minutes before turning the heat to 400′; the bird will still be delish but not quite as moist.

For a larger bird, just cook proportionally longer, checking for doneness with a thermometer.

If you want to roast fingerling potatoes and heads of garlic alongside, oil them, place them in a baking dish and place in the oven during the last 30 minutes of cooking time.

Serves 4

One 3 pound roasting chicken, rinsed and patted dry, neck and giblets reserved

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


3  tablespoons fresh rosemary, thyme or savory leaves in any combination

3 garlic cloves:  1 peeled and crushed, 2 lightly smashed

1 large lemon (4 ounces) washed

2 medium carrots, coarsely chopped

2 shallots, peeled, and cut in half lengthwise

3 sprigs thyme


 1/4 cup Madeira or dry white wine, or a mixture of the two


Rinse the bird inside and out with cold water; pat dry with paper towels and place on a platter. Sprinkle the chicken evenly inside and out with salt and pepper, rubbing it into skin. If you are going to cook the bird within the hour let it sit uncovered. Otherwise, refrigerate uncovered for up to 48 hours (this allows the skin to dry out and crisp).  Remove from the fridge to come to room temperature one hour before roasting .

Preheat the oven to 350’F. Place a small piece of foil just large enough to cover the chickens breast in a roasting pan; rub with butter or oil. Set aside.

Stuff the herb leaves and the crushed garlic clove into the cavity.   Prick the lemon about 25 times each with a toothpick or skewer. Stuff it into the cavity of chicken. Using toothpicks or trussing needles, pin the neck and hind cavities closed. If desired, lash the chickens legs together with cotton string . Place the chicken breast-down on the oiled piece of foil in the roasting pan. Nestle the neck, giblets, carrot, shallot, smashed garlic cloves and thyme around the chicken. Roast for 15 minutes.

Using two wood spoons, carefully turn the bird breast up. Carefully peel off the foil taking care not to rip the skin; discard. Roast 20 minutes longer, then increase the oven temperature to 400’F.

Roast the chicken 20 to 25 minutes longer, until the skin is brown and crisp and the juices run clear when the leg is pricked with a kitchen fork. An instant-read thermometer inserted in the breast should read 140′. Remove the toothpick from hind end. Lift the chicken with two wooden spoons and tilt it slightly so the juices run out of the cavity into pan. Place the chicken on a platter and put in a warm spot. Do not cover or the skin will lose its crispness.

Pour the pan juices into a small measuring cup. Let settle 3-4 minutes, then carefully skim the fat off the surface with a tablespoon. Pour the juices back into the roasting pan set over moderate heat. Add the wine and simmer, stirring to dissolve any browned bits on the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes until the alcohol has cooked off. Skim off any fat or scum that rises to the surface. Strain the sauce into a small bowl, discard the neck and giblets and taste for seasoning. You will have about 1/2 cup of flavorful, natural juices.

Carve the chicken. Pour any juices that have collected on plate into the sauce. For a lemony sauce, squeeze the lemon into the pan juices.  Spoon the pan juices over each portion of chicken.

Variation: Roast Chicken with Rosemary and Balsamic Vinegar 

This delicious variation, from The Splendid Table’s Lynne Rosetto Kasper, uses sweet mellow balsamic vinegar rather than wine to make the pan sauce. Proceed as directed above replacing any if the herbs with fresh rosemary. To make the sauce, use 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar mixed with 1 teaspoon dark brown sugar instead of the wine.

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