During lunch recently with a friend, we were talking about the recent passing of the great Italian cookbook author and educator, Marcella Hazan. And, he reminded me of her simple recipe for roasted chicken. It probably is the easiest roast chicken recipe I've ever used, and also one of the most delicious.
There are three people who most influenced my own cooking: Jacques Pepin, Julia Child and Marcella Hazan. What they all have in common is a love of straightforward, no-nonsense cooking; none of them would use a garnish just to make a dish look pretty, for example. I've never tried a Marcella Hazan recipe that wasn't spot-on, including this one.
When it comes to cooking, quite often less is more. That's certainly the case here, where the only ingredients necessary to produce a gorgeous and delectable bird is a chicken, lemons, salt and pepper. That's it. The self-basted chicken turns out moist and tender with a wonderfully crispy skin.
The secret to success with this recipe lies in cooking the chicken breast-side down initially, so it self-bastes, then flipping the bird to finish the cooking and crisp up the skin. The only tweak I made to the recipe is the addition of a rosemary sprig.
Try Marcella's roast chicken recipe once and there's a good chance you'll throw out all others.
1 3-4 pound roasting chicken, preferably natural and free-range
freshly cracked black pepper
2 lemons (small ones work best)
1 sprig of rosemary (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Remove the giblets from the chicken and any excess fat and pat the chicken with paper towels so it is thoroughly dry.
Generously salt and pepper the chicken, inside and out.
You're going to use the whole lemons, so wash them off in warm water and dry with a towel. Roll each lemon on the kitchen counter, applying pressure with your palm to soften them. This will help to release the lemon's juices.
Using a trussing needle, fork, skewer or whatever, puncture each lemon in about 20 places. I use the prongs of corn-on-the-cob holders.
Place both of the lemons and the optional sprig of rosemary into the chicken's cavity.
With a string or trussing band, truss the legs so that the cavity is closed, but don't truss them too tightly or the skin might tear while cooking. You just want to truss the bird tight enough to keep the lemons from falling out.
Place the chicken in a roasting pan, breast-side down. I like to put a piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan, which helps to keep the breast skin from sticking to the pan and tearing.
The chicken is self-basting, so you don't need to add any additional fat.
Put the chicken into the upper third of the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, take the chicken out of the oven and carefully turn it breast side up. I find that wooden spoons inserted into the chicken's tail and neck cavities are good tools for flipping the chicken.
Put the chicken back into the oven, breast up, and cook for an additional 35 minutes.
After 35 minutes, turn the oven temperature up to 400 degrees F. and cook for an additional 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken. Figure on about 20-25 minutes total cooking time per pound. The internal temperature should read 180 degrees with a meat thermometer inserted into a thigh and the juices should run clear. If not, keep cooking!
Remove the chicken from the oven, place the chicken onto a serving platter, carve, and serve with the delicious lemony cooking juices.
Photos by Ted Scheffler