A roast chicken is considered by many to be the hallmark of a good cook--if you can prepare a roast chicken you have made the culinary grade. There is nothing more satisfying for the cook than to present those at the table with a roast chicken dinner.
Many years ago when this recipe was taught to me, I was told that this was the French style for preparing roast chicken. Is it really? I have absolutely no idea, but I do know that is absolutely delicious! The lemon slices and fresh rosemary sprigs slipped between the skin and the breast give the meat a delightful flavor and an extraordinary moistness. As a practical matter, it is a good dish to have in your culinary arsenal. The secondary benefits of a roast chicken are the potential leftovers and a carcass.
If you look closely at the photograph above, you will notice that this chicken was stuffed. For stuffing "how to" see my post "Stuff It." For gravy how-to see the January 2010 post "Panic and Despair?".
1 6 to 7 lb. chicken, preferably free-range, organic
1 lemon, very thinly sliced
2 springs fresh rosemary (each at least 4 inches long)
1 qt. chicken stock
4 oz. butter, softened
Preheat oven to 325. Calculate the roasting time for your chicken—20 minutes per pound. If the chicken has a “pup-up thermometer” in its breast pull it out and discard. If there are giblets remove them and set aside. Thoroughly rinse the chicken under cold running water.
Move the rinsed chicken to a cutting board. Gently fold back the wings. Turn the chicken so the abdominal cavity is facing you. Carefully slip your fingers between the flesh of the breast and the skin, separating them. Do not rip the skin. Do this to each side. The skin will not separate in the middle.
Now slip in equal an number of lemon slices between the skin and meat on each side (about 4 per side). Break the rosemary springs in half. Gently slip them under the skin on top of the lemon slices. Tie the legs together with a piece of string. Place the trussed chicken into a pan large enough to hold it comfortably. Smear the softened butter evenly over the skin. Pour the stock into the pan. Place the pan into the preheated oven.
Baste the chicken every 20 minutes. If you don’t have a bulb baster use a spoon with a large bowl and a wooden handle. The chicken is cooked when a thermometer inserted into the breast reads 170. Cut the string around the legs. Take one of the drumsticks and gently move it up and down. If the leg moves freely, the chicken is cooked. (This is my preferred method.)
Remove the chicken from the oven. Using two large spatulas or meat forks move the chicken to a platter being careful not to pierce the skin. Cover the chicken with a piece of foil and let it to rest for 20 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to be redistributed.
Your chicken is now ready to be carved. You can do this at the table or in the kitchen. There are special utensils called carving sets designed specifically for this purpose, if you don’t have one, use a long handled fork and a sharp knife.
If you are carving the chicken at the table serve the meat as you slice it. If you are carving in the kitchen, place the meat on a platter as you cut it. Work quickly so the meat is still hot when it is served. Insert the fork into one of the breasts near the breastbone. On the side where you have inserted the fork, find the joint between thigh and the drumstick with your knife. Sever this joint. Next sever the joint between the thigh and the back of the chicken. Now move the knife to the breast. Reposition the fork if you need to. With the knife at the same angle as the breast, cut thin slices of breast meat using smooth even strokes. The lemon and rosemary will be very tender and flavorful and can be offered with the chicken.
After the meal when the chicken is returned to the kitchen, remove/carve any remaining meat from the carcass and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Use the carcass and the giblets to make stock.