Nothing, absolutely nothing–tastes as good and comforting as a carefully home-roasted chicken. Like everybody else I know, for the sake of convenience I buy rotisserie chickens quite often. They are so serviceable for making sandwiches, salads, or casseroles. But when the chicken is the centerpiece of a meal, when someone in the house needs cheering up after a bad day or help celebrating a good one—I love to roast a chicken. It makes the house smell like home, and it never fails to get an “oh good we’re having chicken” reaction from my husband and kids when that garlicky, chicken-y, happy smell starts to waft around the house.
The vegetables can be chosen by the season—I always include garlic and some kind of onion and then from there shop my pantry or the store and use seasonal things—Brussels sprouts, fennel, green beans, carrots, rutabagas, turnips, mushrooms, red, white or sweet potatoes—the combinations are endless and make the chicken taste special no matter what time of year you’re cooking.
Here is the way I roast my chicken to get a crunchy, crackly skin and very moist breast meat. My kids always like to claim the thighs, drumsticks and all the skin they can get—so the breast meat has to be good and this way does it for me. I hope it does it for you too.
Roast Chicken and Vegetables
Preparation Time: 2 hours inactive to bring the chicken to room temperature
30 minutes active
Cook Time: 1 to 1-½ hours plus 30 minutes to rest the chicken before carving
Serves 4 (with some leftovers—save the bones to make homemade chicken stock or soup)
1 4-pound chicken
6 medium potatoes, rinsed, halved and then quartered
1 large purple onion, peeled and cut into large wedges
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 zucchini, washed and cut into 1-inch pieces
8 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
10 thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, sliced into 6 pieces
About two hours before you’re ready to cook, take the chicken out of the refrigerator. Remove the giblets and neck from the cavity of the chicken and then rinse and pat dry. Put the chicken on a plate and then let it come fully to room temperature.
In the meantime, you can prepare the vegetables and place them in a roasting pan. Add ¼ cup of the olive oil to the vegetables along with 5 of the thyme sprigs, kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, the lemon juice and 4 of the smashed garlic cloves. Stir the vegetables well to coat them with the seasonings and spread them out with a slight slope in the middle for the chicken.
When the chicken is at room temperature, preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Pat the chicken dry again with paper towels to remove any moisture that has collected on the skin. Turn it on its end and put the remaining 4 garlic cloves and 5 thyme sprigs in the cavity. Liberally salt and pepper the inside cavity and truss the chicken. Important: if you’re not going to truss the bird, add an onion or half a lemon to the cavity to keep it moist while you’re roasting. If you are trussing the bird, you don’t have to do this—the tying and plumping of the breast will keep it moist. (I’m not demonstrating trussing here—but if you haven’t done it—don’t be intimidated—look in any cookbook or on the Internet—it is easy to do.)
Rub the chicken all over with the rest of the olive oil and then sprinkle it liberally with kosher salt and pepper. Place it in the middle of the vegetables. Dot the top with the butter and place in the oven on the middle rack.
Roast for 25 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 400 degrees and continue to roast for 1 hour (If your chicken weighs less than 4 pounds, start checking it after 45 minutes). Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature right under the breast where it meets the thigh—when it reaches 160 degrees, it is done. Remove the pan from the oven. Take the long handle of a wooden spoon, and put it into the cavity. With a carving fork, spear the chicken in the rear, tilt it forward to tip out any juices into the vegetables and transfer the chicken to a grooved cutting board (there will be more juices later). Tent the chicken loosely with foil. If the vegetables haven’t caramelized nicely, give them a stir, return the pan to the oven and keep roasting—checking them occasionally while the chicken rests for 30 minutes.
When you’re ready to serve, spoon the vegetables onto a serving platter, carve the chicken (watching carefully for any impatient little fingers that show up to pluck and nibble at the crackly skin) and arrange the pieces on top.