I'll let you in on a little secret: When I review restaurants, if there is roasted chicken on the menu, I always order it. That's because I figure if a chef can't properly roast a chicken, the rest of his/her dishes don't stand much of chance, either.
I think a simple roasted chicken is one of the best things on the planet. And yet, it's so often poorly done. I have tried many, many roasted-chicken recipes over the years, but I keep coming back to this one. It's a variation on a classic recipe from Julia Child: roasted chicken with herbs and lemon. Best of all, it's actually very simple to do. Cooking a juicy, perfectly roasted chicken shouldn't make you want to tear your hair out. This one is easy.
1 fresh roasting chicken, 3 1/2 to 4 lbs.
Handful of fresh sage leaves (or other fresh herbs of your choice, such as thyme and/or rosemary)
1 lemon, cut into 4-5 thick slices
2 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup mixture of chopped onion, carrots and celery
Salt and black pepper
Preheat an oven to 425 F., with a rack set to the lower-middle level of the oven.
Remove the neck and any giblets from the chicken's cavity. Rinse the chicken under cold water, inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels.
Salt and pepper the chicken cavity and stuff it with the sage leaves or other herbs, along with the lemon slices. Squeeze lemon over the chicken before inserting the slices.
Smear the softened butter over the entire chicken and salt the exterior generously.Tuck the wing tips under the breast and tie the chicken legs together. Then, place the chicken in an ovenproof roasting pan atop the vegetable mixture.
Place the chicken in the oven and cook at 425 F. for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, lower the oven temperature to 350 F. Roast for another hour, basting occasionally with the natural chicken juices.
The chicken is done when juices from a pierced thigh run clear (not pink or red). A 3 1/2 to 4 pound chicken will usually cook in about 1 1/2 hours, but ovens vary, as do chicken sizes. A surefire way to know if the chicken is done is when all juices from the cavity and thighs run clear.
Place the chicken on a cutting board and allow to rest before carving, covered with foil, for 10-15 minutes. This will allow the juices to retreat back into the flesh.
Remove the lemon pieces and herbs from the chicken's cavity. Then, carve and serve with your favorite side dishes and a simple, natural pan sauce, if desired.