Roasting a whole chicken can be daunting (at least the first time), but it's just as easy as making boneless skinless chicken breasts. A whole chicken takes longer to cook, but it's 1) juicier, 2) tastier, 3) takes less active time, and 4) it's cheaper.
My recipe for Whole Roasted Chicken with Thyme and Lemon omits a couple of boilerplate steps. I don't tie back the legs or clip the wings (called trussing, which rhymes with fussing for good reason) so occasionally, I serve a tasty bird with legs akimbo. Nor do I baste, because an oil rub at the outset works just as well.
At least a decade ago, Barbara Kafka wrote a book about roasting pretty much everything at 500 degrees. My recipe is inspired by her concept of a really hot oven and motivated by all the time it saves. But for me, 450 is a better temperature. It's more forgiving if your timing is off.
While my oven preheats, I thoroughly rinse the chicken with very hot tap water. I cut away all the excess skin around the neck. And, for this recipe, I toss out the neck and all the organs that scare the squeamish. I pat the bird dry, inside and out. Then I make a blend of salt, pepper, and any other herbs or spices I want to use. The options I most use include garlic, thyme, dill, oregano, and sage (but not all at the same time).
Since this is a summer chicken, I chose lemon and thyme. I use fresh thyme and both lemon zest and slices of whole lemon. I rub some of my salt and pepper blend over the inside of the chicken. Then I blend some of the mixture with butter and get that mixture between the skin and the meat -- ideally, the breast meat and the thighs. I put a sliced lemon and a few sprigs of thyme inside the bird and put it in a pan breast-side up. I rub also butter or olive oil all over the skin, which creates a moisture barrier, keeping the meat moist and at the same time crisping the skin.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
Then I cover the chicken and put it into the oven. After 40 minutes, I remove the cover and cook until the skin is nicely browned. Usually, this takes about 20 to 25 minutes longer. Then I test for doneness. It's done when my instant read thermometer says it's 165 degrees.
Let it rest for 10 or 15 minutes. Then you can slice it like a mini-turkey, cut it into parts, or do whatever else you'd do with a rotisserie chicken you bought at the store. This time, however, you'll know exactly how long that chicken's been sitting around since it came out of the oven.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.