roast chicken with lemons, rosemary + garlic

I suppose it says something about me when I say that I started making this chicken because the recipe sternly warned that the chicken might explode while cooking. My first version of this chicken was a strict rendition of Marcella Hazan’s “Roast Chicken with Lemons,” from Essentials of Italian Cooking. You pierce two lemons all over, stick them in the chicken and truss it. Marcella warns not to truss it too tight (something I assure you I am not talented enough to actually pull off), or pressure could build up inside the chicken as the lemons heat up, causing it to burst.

The result of this experiment was a wonderful chicken, delicious and moist and perfectly seasoned. It emerged from the oven without incident. However, the next recipe in the book is “Roast Chicken with Rosemary and Garlic,” and it sounded good, too. But I didn’t want to give up the wonderful basting effect the lemons had on the bird. (Apparently, though they may cause the bird to burst at any moment, they emit moisture throughout cooking just like basting would.) So I combined the two recipes, and haven’t looked back. When it comes to “trussing” the chicken, I use two skewers, weaving the sharp end like a needle through the flaps of skin at the neck and rear of the chicken. This trusses it up nicely but without the trouble of using a trussing needle and butcher’s twine. I think you could also successfully stitch it up with sturdy toothpicks. Just don’t do too good a job of it or it might explode. Or so I like to think.

Roast chicken with lemons, rosemary + garlic

Adapted from Marcella Hazan, Essentials of Italian Cooking

  • 1 roasting chicken, about 4 pounds
  • 2 small lemons, pierced about 20-25 times with a toothpick or fork
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 sprigs of rosemary, 1 left whole, the other two stripped of their needles
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and remove giblets if present. Salt and pepper the chicken inside and out.

2. Place whole sprig of rosemary, all of the garlic and both lemons inside the chicken’s cavity. Using a trussing needle and twine, or sturdy toothpicks or skewers, stitch the chicken’s two openings closed. Be careful! Don’t truss it too tightly or the chicken may explode while cooking. Or so I am told.

3. Rub the needles from the other two sprigs of rosemary on the outside of the chicken. Place in a baking pan breast side down. Place in oven.

4. Cook for 35 minutes, remove, and carefully flip chicken with the breast side up. Return to the oven for another 30 minutes.

5. Without opening the oven, increase temperature to 400 F. Cook for another 30 minutes, or until internal temperature of the coldest part of the chicken breast has reached 180 F.

6. Remove from oven and serve immediately, or let the bird rest for up to one hour. It will stay nice and warm.

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