This past weekend I was craving roasted chicken. A perfect Sunday afternoon food. The kind that makes you want to curl up on a couch afterwards knowing that all is right with the world. I like my roasted chicken full of flavor and juicy. Who doesn’t, right?
My 93 year-old next door neighbor, Miss Alvesta, loves roasted chicken. At 93 she still has a zest for life and often gives me dating advice. “How do you do?” she tells me to say while batting my eyelashes like a butterfly. And she has repeatedly told me that she won’t be ready to meet her maker until I get married. Absolutely. No. Pressure. Gulp.
Savory and delicious, this chicken is roasted with wild Sicilian oregano and fresh lemons in a cast iron skillet. I’m also a big fan of crispy, golden on the outside and tender on the inside. The cast iron skillet is an ideal pot to roast a chicken. The skillet gets super-hot and helps give the exterior the perfect bronzed skin.
The key to fabulous Italian cooking lies in the ingredients. Few ingredients. Must be the best quality possible. One cannot expect to take lackluster ingredients and expect to make something fabulous with it.
Butter. Butter makes most things taste better and that is definitely true here as well.
Place a stick of salted butter in a bowl and allow to come to room temperature.
Fresh lemons. Actually here we are really using the lemon zest as the ingredient. I find that using lemon zest instead of lemon juice gives more of that vibrant, fresh lemon flavor to a dish.
Tip: I like to boil a small pot of water and then place the lemons in the water for about 30 seconds to a minute. This removes the wax coating and makes the lemons easier to zest.
My zester has to be one of my favorite kitchen tools. Very easy to use and so much fun.
And it is beautiful. Food should be beautiful.
Sicilian oregano. An herb loaded with flavor. Spicy, intense, sweet and extremely fragrant. I absolutely adore the smell. Found only growing in the Sicily’s mountainous regions, it is coveted and vastly superior from the oregano that we are accustomed to in the United States. The dried version is more flavorful than the fresh. I usually carry a large stash home from my trips to Italy. Here you can find it in some Italian markets, and I have also seen it advertised by some specialty food shops.
Add the lemon zest dried oregano to the butter.
Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Go easy on the salt as the butter is already salted. If you are using unsalted butter, then you can add a larger pinch of salt.
With a potato masher or fork gently mash the butter mixture until all the ingredients are blended.
The butter should be a creamy consistency with specks of lemon zest and oregano throughout. Set aside and begin to prepare the bird.
Here comes the really fun part.
Cut a garlic head in half so that the cloves are exposed.
Cut a lemon into quarters. You can use one of the lemons that you zested.
Take the chicken out of the refrigerator. Rinse your bird with cold water and pat dry. Make sure that it is dry under the wings, legs and all the way around including the inside.
The really messy and fun part! With clean hands take some of the butter and begin to rub it all around the outside and inside of the chicken.
Once the chicken is coated in the butter mixture, stuff the inside with the lemons and garlic.
Your stuffed bird will look like this. The professional way to cook this bird is to tie the legs together and perhaps close the opening with a toothpick so that the lemons and zest don’t come out.
I’m lazy and rarely do either. My chicken turns out just fine.
Next I place the chicken in a lightly oiled cast iron skillet. Here I let it sit for 30 minutes until the chicken is closer to room temperature. A tip that I learned from different chefs. Protein should be room temperature before it is cooked. Allows it to cook evenly. This also gives the butter mixture a chance to season the bird.
I do like to tuck the wings in under the bird so that they don’t get burned while cooking.
Now preheat your oven to 425 degrees! It’s about to get hot in here!
When the oven is at 425 degrees place the bird on the middle rack and roast for 1 1/2 hours. You do not need to baste the bird while it is cooking. In fact, I recommend that you don’t. The butter mixture will already do that for you.
Gorgeous! Perfectly golden.
When the bird is done, remove it from the oven and place a few lemon slices at the bottom of the pan. The butter has now melted and formed a pool of delicious drippings. Placing the lemon slices in at the end will give a fresh lemon flavor to the drippings which can easily be made into a wonderful sauce.
Now I am not a professional gravy maker. I am not even going to pretend to be, but I do know a very basic way to get a lovely sauce out of this pool of flavor.
Set the bird aside and allow it to sit for about 30 minutes before slicing or cutting into pieces.
Remove the lemon slices and with a slotted spoon remove any pieces of chicken or skin. You should be left with just liquid.
Pour the butter mixture into a jar and place into the fridge. The fat will rise to the top and solidify. Remove the fat with a spoon and place the drippings into a small pan. Heat until warm and then serve with the chicken.
You will be a hero. You will be adored. You will be hailed as a genius in the kitchen.
Such an easy and delicious way to cook chicken. No need to buy that grocery store roasted chicken that has been drying out underneath a heat lamp for hours on end. And this way you get all the delicious drippings that make a sauce that will have your friends giddy with delight.
I would love to hear how you like your roasted chicken. I’ll be making many more roasted chickens during this fall and winter. I have a variety of traditional and modern flavor combinations dancing in my head. Can’t wait to make them all.
Hope you enjoy. And as always,
Share with someone you love.
- One 4-6 lb whole chicken
- 1 stick of salted butter
- 4 lemons, whole
- 1 tablespoon dried Sicilian oregano (or Greek)
- 1 head of garlic
- pinch of sea salt and black pepper
- Place stick of butter in a bowl and bring to room temperature.
- Zest lemons and add zest to butter.
- Add dried oregano, pinch of sea salt and black pepper to butter.
- Gently mash until all ingredients are well incorporated throughout butter.
- Set butter mixture aside.
- Slice garlic head in half. Set aside.
- Slice one lemon into quarters. Set aside.
- Remove chicken from refrigerator. Remove giblet bag and discard.
- Rinse chicken with cold water.
- Pat chicken dry inside and out.
- Rub butter mixture all over the outside and a little on the inside of the chicken.
- Stuff the chicken cavity with garlic head halves and quartered lemon.
- Lightly oil cast iron skillet with olive oil.
- Place chicken on cast iron skillet. Tuck wings under the body of the chicken.
- Allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Place chicken in the oven on middle rack and roast for 1½ hours until bird is golden and firm to the touch.
- Remove from oven and place roasted bird on a plate to rest.
- Slice a lemon and place lemon slices in pan drippings for a couple of minutes.
- Remove lemon slices and skim any chicken pieces from the drippings.
- Once a little cool pour pan drippings into tempered glass bowl or jar.
- Place in refrigerator for 15 minutes.
- Remove fat that has risen to the top with a slotted spoon.
- In a small clean pot reheat pan drippings and serve with chicken.