Perfect Roast Chicken

Roasting a chicken is another one of those things that has been on my “to do” list for just about forever.  Roasted chicken always seemed like such an elegant, old-fashioned family meal to me – infinitely appealing, but too much of a “big deal” for everyday eating.  As a child of the ’80s and ’90s with working parents, a roasted chicken certainly never graced our family table.  (Loved the casseroles, though, Mom!)  I had never even purchased a whole roasting chicken until a few weeks ago when my friend Christopher and I made chicken stock.  (This helped me get over my giblet aversion, which I think is the primary reason I wasn’t particularly inclined to work with a whole chicken in the first place.)  Since the whole bird was now familiar and the giblets weren’t deal breakers, I figured it was time to find a recipe and get on with it.

I’m more obsessed with HGTV than the Food Network these days (blame it on home ownership), but I used to fill up the DVR with episodes of Barefoot Contessa.  There’s just something about Ina…  I really relate to her love of entertaining but desire to be a part of the party; she rarely makes anything harder than it needs to be.  Plus, every recipe of hers that I’ve tried has produced outstanding results.  I knew that she’d be a great source of instruction for my first roasted chicken, so I decided to go with her Perfect Roast Chicken recipe.

Only in my world (with the luck I’ve been having in the kitchen lately, especially) can one screw up a perfectly straightforward, potentially-very-delicious thing. 🙂 I actually made the chicken twice in the past week to get it right, but when it was right, it was amazing.  We’ll start with Ina’s recipe, and then I’ll outline my initial missteps to help you get perfect results the first time.

Perfect Roast Chicken
Serves 8 (I think it’s more like 4 – 6)

1 (5- to 6-pound) roasting chicken
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme, plus 20 sprigs
1 lemon, halved
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted
1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
4 carrots, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 bulb of fennel, tops removed, cut into wedges
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 425F.

Remove the chicken giblets. Rinse the chicken inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pin feathers and pat the outside dry. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, both halves of lemon, and all the garlic. Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle again with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Place the onions, carrots, and fennel in a roasting pan. Toss with salt, pepper, 20 sprigs of thyme, and olive oil. Spread around the bottom of the roasting pan and place the chicken on top.

Roast the chicken for 1 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. Remove the chicken and vegetables to a platter and cover with aluminum foil for about 20 minutes. Slice the chicken onto a platter and serve it with the vegetables.

Source: Ina Garten/

Perfect Roast Chicken

(It’s my bowl of chicken and vegetable perfection!)

Here’s where I went wrong the first time:

  • I received this absolutely gorgeous All-Clad roasting pan with a rack when we got married five years ago.  I love that pan as much as you can love an item in the kitchen, but I’ve never actually used it.  I thought this would be the perfect occasion.  Not so much.  When Ina says to put the chicken on top of the vegetables, she means on top of the vegetables.  When I used the rack, the chicken cooked too quickly because the air was better able to circulate around it, and the vegetables were almost completely blackened because they were too exposed to the heat of the oven.  When I made my “perfect” chicken, I just used an old standard (9 x 13-inch) roasting pan and plopped the chicken directly on top of the veggies.  There were some charred bits (a plus in my book), but all of the vegetables were edible (and incredibly delicious) the second time around.
  • Most of the recipes I’ve tried that include seasoning large cuts of meat instruct you to rub those seasonings into the meat.  Even though the recipe didn’t say to, my inclinations got the best of me the first time around.  Don’t do it!  The butter may be melted, but it doesn’t take long to solidify on the outside of a cold chicken.  You’ll rub it right off, so just sprinkle the salt and pepper on top and let it be.
  • This isn’t exactly a mistake, but I don’t think there are enough vegetables in this recipe to comfortably serve four people (much less eight).  You don’t want to overcrowd the pan, but I think this recipe could easily accommodate a few more carrots and an extra fennel bulb.  I threw in a few extras the second time around and didn’t have any problems.

The chicken was absolutely incredible on my successful second attempt.  The meat was tender and juicy, and the vegetables were so flavorful from cooking in the olive oil, seasonings, and rendered chicken fat at the bottom of the pan.  (Use a slotted spoon when you transfer them to your serving platter.)  I served the chicken and vegetables with Martha Stewart’s Roasted Red Potatoes (though I used white creamer potatoes this time around) because the roasting temperature was the same as the chicken.  I put them on a rack underneath the chicken pan for the first 10 minutes (the last 10 minutes of the chicken roasting time) and then finished roasting them on a higher rack for the final 20 minutes (which perfectly coincides with the chicken’s resting time.)  It was a terrific “meat and potatoes” meal – very elegant and special, but with minimal work required.  This one is going to become a dinner party regular at my house.

TIPS:  Here’s a video on how to carve a chicken.  I’ve seen it done a few times on TV, but reviewing this before I served the meal helped a lot.

Recipe link: Perfect Roast Chicken

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