By Angela Denstad Stigeler
Though we heard often in the last major political cycle that we’ve been through the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, we hear little about that era’s iconic dinner vision of a chicken in every pot. So this pre-inaugural week, I set my sights on updating the Sunday chicken dinner with a fresh and savory flavor and an unimpeachable technique.
The way is clear: for perfect roast chicken, you’ll see 20/20 is key, roasting 20 minutes on each side before turning the bird on its back. Though it may seem strange to have your chicken change positions so often, you’ll see that this helps the white and dark meat cook more evenly, resulting in better flavor all around.
In hindsight, you’ll find that placing the bird tail-side up to rest after roasting is key to redistributing the juices. When you finally flip over your Sunday dinner centerpiece, it will be a perfect vision of the ideal family meal. It’s so good, everyone will want one.
Lemon and Herb Roast Chicken
1 whole chicken (about 3½ pounds)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon mixed dried herbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 tablespoons water
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Using a fine grater, remove the zest from the lemon and place in a small bowl. Add the salt, pepper and dried herbs, mixing by rubbing between your fingers until well combined. Slice off about 1/3 of the lemon, then cut 6 thin slices from the center.
Pat the chicken dry with paper towels, loosen the skin over the breast and thighs and tuck the wing tips behind the back. Place four lemon slices in a single layer between the chicken breasts and the loosened skin. Slip the other two slices under the skin of the thighs. Season the inside of the chicken with some of the herb mixture, then put the larger of the two lemon ends into the main cavity; tuck the smaller piece into the neck cavity. Season the outside of the bird all over with the rest of the herb mixture.
Heat the oil in a large ovenproof skillet until hot but not smoking. Place the chicken on its side in the skillet and brown it over medium-high heat for about 2½ minutes. Turn the chicken over and brown on the other side for 2½ minutes.
Place the skillet in the oven and roast the chicken on its side for 20 minutes. Using large tongs, turn the chicken onto its other side and roast for another 20 minutes. Finally, turn the chicken onto its back, baste it with the drippings and roast for an additional 20 minutes.
Remove the chicken from the oven and place it, breast side down, onto a platter. Pour the drippings into a bowl and set aside. Deglaze the skillet by adding the water and stirring to loosen and melt the solidified juices. Add to the drippings in the bowl and let stand briefly, then skim off and discard most of the fat. Carve the chicken and serve with the pan juices.
Recipe adapted from Essential Pepin by Jacques Pepin