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Learn to Cook the Perfect Roast Chicken

Updated on July 9, 2011

When the rosemary bush in my garden reaches rampant proportions and the weather promises the first hint of an autumnal cool breeze, my thoughts always turn to roast chicken.  There is something about the tantalizing aroma emanating from the oven coupled with the glistening finished product that I find irresistible, and hence, on the first day I can bear to turn on the oven, you will find me in my kitchen, peeking through the oven door as my first roast chicken of the year browns and bubbles away.  Here are detailed instructions for creating my version of this quintessential fall dish.  This herb-scented roast chicken is perfect for simple family meals, but it can serve just as well as the centerpiece for an elegant dinner party or a romantic dinner for two.  Chicken is also a wonderful addition to any healthy diet plan, since it is high in protein, vitamin B6, and certain minerals.

Assemble Your Equipment

The only equipment you absolutely need is a roasting pan.  Select a pan large enough to fit your chicken comfortably, and remember that the bird will release quite a bit of liquid at the end of the cooking process, for which you will want to allow adequate room.  I find that the best roasting pans for roasting chicken are basic Pyrex oblong pans; the clear glass allows the pan juices to brown ideally. You should also have a simple bulb baster for basting the chicken with its juices as it cooks.  If you are not a confident poultry cook, you might want to have a meat thermometer available to double check the doneness of the bird when the time draws near, but if you use your instincts and some basic guidelines, you should be able to do without a thermometer.  If you do wish to double check the doneness of the bird, a digital meat thermometer or instant read thermometer is the most effective way to ensure that your meal is fully and safely cooked. 

Herbes de Provence, an ideal seasoning for poultry
Herbes de Provence, an ideal seasoning for poultry | Source

Prepare Your Ingredients

Next, you will need to assemble all your ingredients. Buy the freshest chicken you can find. An organic or free-range chicken is a good choice, as is a kosher chicken. Choose the size that best suits your gathering, but realize that often very large chickens tend to be less flavorful and fattier than their more modest brethren. A size of four to five pounds will accommodate all but the largest gatherings, and will provide excellent flavor and texture. After your have purchased your chicken, locate a bottle of virgin olive oil. You don’t need to use your finest gourmet olive oil for this preparation, but you should use something with a pleasant flavor. Next, head to your wine cellar (even if your wine ‘cellar’, like mine, resembles more of a lone dusty bottle stuffed in the back of a forgotten cabinet), and select the finest dry white wine you have available. No white wine? No problem. A dry red wine or even a dry sherry will serve just as well for this recipe. Uncork the wine. No, not so it can breathe, but because you deserve to pour yourself a glass while you prepare the rest of the recipe. There will be plenty left for the chicken; the recipe only requires half a cup of wine, so enjoy!

The other ingredients you will need are as follows:

  • A head of garlic, separated into cloves
  • A whole lemon
  • Several (four to six) sprigs of fresh rosemary, each about 2-3 inches in length
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Dried Herbes de Provence (or dried thyme, in a pinch)

Cookbooks to Inspire You to Use Your Leftovers Creatively

Now You Are Ready to Begin

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (approximately 232 degrees Celsius).  Slosh a (generous) tablespoon of olive oil into the roasting pan, and tip the pan to coat.  Rinse the chicken under cool running water, making sure to remove any giblets from the body cavity.  Dry the chicken well with paper towels, and place in the oiled pan.  Flip it over a time or two, so that it is lightly coated in oil before you rest it, breast side up, in the pan.  Next, slightly crush the garlic cloves with the blunt end of a knife, to slightly bruise and soften them.  Remove the papery skins and leave the cloves whole.  Roll the lemon on the counter to release its juices, then cut a deep X in the side of the lemon, cutting almost all the way through.  Insert the lemon deep into the body cavity of the chicken.  Sprinkle the entire chicken, including the body cavity, with sea salt and season generously with the dried herbs.  Next, scatter the garlic cloves around the chicken and adorn it with the rosemary sprigs.  Finally, measure about a half cup of wine (you still have that much left, don’t you?), and very gently pour over the top of the chicken.  When the oven is preheated, slide the prepared chicken into the oven, and set a timer for fifteen minutes.  After fifteen minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees (approximately 163 degrees Celsius), and continue to roast.  Once there is enough liquid to begin basting, baste every fifteen minutes or so.  You don’t have to be dogmatic about this, however.  Remember, this is supposed to be an enjoyable multisensory experience, so don’t set your timer to buzz every fifteen minutes, unless you need a reminder to fill your wine glass…

Roast chicken as the centerpiece of a Christmas meal in Greece.
Roast chicken as the centerpiece of a Christmas meal in Greece.

When Can I Eat It?

After about an hour and a quarter of the lower temperature roasting (this time will vary widely depending on the size of your chicken, among other factors), start watching for signs of doneness. The chicken will start letting off lots of juices when it is nearing completion. Also, if you pierce the inside of the thigh, the juices will run clear yellow, not pink, once the chicken is fully cooked. Or, by all means, break out the trusty meat thermometer, and check for a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius) in the thickest part of the breast, or slightly higher in the thigh. When you are satisfied that the chicken is safely cooked to your liking, remove it from the oven, and very carefully transfer to a cutting board. Loosely cover it with foil and allow it to stand for ten to fifteen minutes. Meanwhile, transfer the pan juices to a small saucepan and heat over moderately low heat while the chicken rests. Taste the juices and adjust for seasoning; I often add another squeeze of lemon at this stage, you could add a pat of butter to make the sauce even more luxurious. Finally, carve up the chicken, and serve with the pan juices and roasted garlic. Mashed potatoes are an ideal dish for serving alongside, to soak up all the savory sauce. Now, sit back, finish off that wine, and enjoy the intoxicating first taste of autumn.


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    • profile image

      final year electronics projects 6 years ago

      Delicious recipe, easy to understand the method of preparing, thanx for sharing, keep going.

    • profile image

      Joann Sullivan 7 years ago

      Dean told me about your lego post--wow, your little one does really great cars. My son used to spend hours and hours making lego inventions--I think it is so great for them. So I read your other posts--for me they are very relevant. How to make the best roast chicken. My recipes are usually pretty simple, but I think I will add rosemary next time. I usually roast two small chickens (about three pounds) rather than a big one. I just don't like the big ones. Keep writing.

    • Second Act profile image

      Second Act 7 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area, California

      Thanks for the kind comment, Dave... let me know if you enjoy it as much as I do!

    • DavePrice profile image

      DavePrice 7 years ago from Sugar Grove, Ill

      Excellent article, thanks for the recipe, I'll be cooking it before the week is out.