The other day, a friend who had moved to Santa Fe was in town so I asked him over to dinner. It was a weeknight and I didn't have a whole lot of time to fuss in the kitchen, and also, because it just seemed like that kind of day, I made a roast chicken.
My standby used to be Marcella Hazan's method, just stick a whole lemon inside and let it lightly perfume the bird. But lately I've been making it Simon Hopkinson’s way, from the British chef and food writer’s book “Roast Chicken and Other Stories.” It has to be among the best roast chickens I've ever tasted.
It's dead simple. And when it comes out of the oven, it looks gorgeous, the skin crisp, the flesh moist and scented all over with butter and lemon. If I have time, I sometimes rub the chicken with salt and leave it for a few hours before roasting.
Here's Hopkinson’s recipe:
4 ounces good butter at room temperature
4 pounds free range chicken
Salt and pepper
Several sprigs of thyme or tarragon, or a mixture
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Smear the butter with your hands all over the bird. Put the chicken in a roasting tin that will accommodate it with room to spare. Season liberally with salt and pepper and squeeze over the juice of the lemon. Put the herbs and garlic inside the cavity, together with the squeezed out lemon halves — this will add a fragrant lemony flavor to the finished dish.
Roast the chicken in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Baste, then turn the oven temperature down to 375 degrees. And roast for an additional 30 to 45 minutes with further occasional basting. The bird should be golden brown all over with a crisp skin and have buttery, lemony juices of a nut-brown color in the bottom of the tin.
Turn off the oven, leaving the door ajar, and leave the chicken to rest for at least 15 minutes before carving. Serve with the juices.
He gives some variations, but that's basically it.