This is the way.

Good chickens are – like true love, reliable plumbers and excellent espresso – hard to find. They are also, when you finally get your hands on one, costly things! Quite right too! We should be deeply suspicious of cheap (even modestly priced) chickens, they almost certainly have the darkest, dirtiest story etched into their tragic flesh. The chicken above, the one sitting in my new enamel roasting tin from Emanuela, is a good chicken. A blooming good chicken in fact, from my butcher Marco who in turn procured it from the blazing beacon of conscientious husbandry: Azienda San Bartolomeo. Having parted with the best part of 16€ (an investment in our sustenance for the next three days) and taken possession of our bird, we – that is Luca and I – also picked up half a dozen San Bartolomeo eggs, a fat pat of butter, five lemons, some bitter salad leaves and a piece of Lariano bread. After all, good chicken deserves good company.

We walked home the long way, following the deep arc of the river, which meant there were leaves to crunch and dogs to bark at! I crunched and Luca barked. We stopped, as we usually do, at Giolitti for an espresso before crossing our vast echoing courtyard and barking some more. Time was taken climbing the stairs, after all it’s important to peer between every other railing. It’s also important to ring the doorbell 17 times, especially when there is nobody at home. Then while Luca played with something inappropriate and slightly dangerous, I set about roasting.

Roast chicken is one of my favourite things both to make and eat. It’s also a significant meal for me, maybe the most significant. We ate roast chicken and then soup made from the leftovers and carcass, at least once a week when I was growing up. It’s a meal evocative of home, the kitchen in Kirkwick Avenue, my family and the meals we shared. Over the years roast chicken has bought us – parents, relatives and three Roddy kids in turn doe eyed bundles, eager fat-fingered toddlers, grasping children, grubby rascals, sullen teenagers and floundering/flourishing adults – together again and again and again. A burnished bird has the capacity to stir deep (food) memories, some crisp and golden, others as dark and sticky as the juices stuck to the bottom of the roasting pan.

I think of my mum and my granny Alice when I roast a chicken, especially at the beginning when I wash it in very cold water and then pat it absolutely dry with a clean cloth. My granny was – and my mum still is – a great believer in very cold water, clean cotton cloths and patting things absolutely dry. I rub my chicken, as my mum does, with butter. Butter I’ve remembered to leave out in the kitchen so it’s smearble. I’m as liberal with the salt and freshly milled black pepper as I am with the gin in a Gin and tonic: very.

I put a lemon up my chicken’s bottom (that was for you Ben) long before I came to Italy. However it was cut in two so the juice could be squeezed over the chicken and the hollow halves tucked inside. Now, as taught by my old neighbor Mima and guided by Marcella Hazan, I roll a lemon vigorously around the kitchen counter so it is soft. I prick it 37 times with a toothpick and then stick it up my chicken’s bottom just so.

I roast my lemon filled chicken with its breast down for 20 minutes. I then turn it breast up, crank up the oven a notch and roast it for another 40 minutes. I don’t baste. Then  – as taught by Simon Hopkinson in his aptly named book Roast chicken and other stories – I turn the oven off, open the door a jar and leave the chicken sitting in the cooling oven for another 20 minutes. These twenty minutes are vital. It is during this time, the cooking equivalent of a perfect vinyl fadeout, that the cooking finishes, the skin dries and flesh relaxes but clings to the precious juices making for a roast with properly crisp skin, succulent, tender flesh and easy carving

Actually carve is not the right word for a bird like this – a bird with runner’s legs and a lean breast – pull and tear is more appropriate. Using my hands, a knife and my poultry shears, I pull and tear my chicken to pieces. I do this in the roasting tin and then roll the pieces in the best sort of gravy: the buttery, lemony, nut-brown juices that have collected at the bottom of the tin.

Did I mention how I feel about the smell of roasting chicken? Oh you know! Of course you do, because you feel the same way! Excellent. Today we ate our chicken with mayonnaise (see below), a mixture of bitter and sweeter salad leaves and bread. What a good lunch! I had some wine too, an inch, maybe two and raised my glass to us, to my family – who seem a long way away these days – the whole delicious, tender, dark, messy, sticky lot of us.

Roast chicken with lemon

With advice from Granny, Mum, Simon Hopkinson and Marcella Hazan

Notes. A good roasting tin of the right size is pretty vital. It should be large enough to accommodate the chicken comfortably but small enough to contain the precious juices. I like, really like, this tin. You do not need to baste the chicken.

Serves 4 or in my case serves 1 and a quarter (Luca) for 3 days.

  • 1.5 – 2 kg / 3 – 4 lb chicken at room temperature
  • 50 g / 2 oz good butter at room temperature
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large unwaxed lemon

Set the oven to 180° / 350 F.

Wash the chicken both inside and out with cold water. Leave it sitting on a slightly tilted plate for 10 minutes or so, to let all the water drain away. Pat the chicken absolutely dry with a clean cloth.

Put the chicken in a roasting tin that will accommodate it with room to spare. Smear the butter with your hands all over the bird and then season it liberally with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Wash, dry and then soften the lemon by rolling it back and forth across the kitchen counter while applying pressure with your palm. Prick the lemon 37 times with a cocktail stick or trussing needle.

Tuck the lemon in the chicken cavity and then close the opening with two cocktail sticks. Don’t make an expert job of closing the opening or the chicken might just puff up and burst.

Turn the chicken beast side down in the roasting tin and place it in the upper third of the preheated oven. After 20 minutes turn the chicken the right way up. Do not baste.

Turn the oven up to 200° / 400 F and continue roasting the chicken for another 40 minutes. Turn the oven off, leaving the door ajar and let the chicken rest in the cooling oven for another 20 minutes.

Before carving tilt the chicken slightly so all the juices run into the tin. Stir the buttery, lemony, nut-brown juices  – scraping the thick dark ones from the bottom of the tin – with a wooden spoon. Carve, rip, tear, pull the chicken in the roasting tin letting the pieces and joints roll in the juices.

And may I suggest you make some mayonnaise!


  • 2 egg yolks (at room temperature)
  • salt
  • 150 ml sunflower or grapeseed oil
  • 150 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of half a lemon or dab of Dijon mustard

In a heavy bowl (which doesn’t require too much effort or holding to keep it firm) start whisking the egg yolks with a generous pinch of salt.

After a minutes, when the yolks are thick and sticky, start adding the groundnut oil very gradually – by very gradually I mean drop by drop and then a very thin stream. Do not rush and keep whisking as you add the oil.

Keep adding the oil until the mayonnaise seizes into a very thick ointment, at this point you can relax and add the sunflower oil in a slightly thicker stream.

When you have added all the groundnut oil, add the extra virgin olive oil (again in a thin stream) and keep whisking until you have a smooth, silky and firm mayonnaise. You may not need to add all the olive oil. Add a few drops of lemon juice or a dab of mustard, whisk, taste and then, if necessary a few drops/dab more. Add salt as you like.



Filed under chicken, Eggs, fanfare, food, In praise of, Rachel's Diary, recipes

79 responses to “This is the way.

  1. Looks delicious. I love a good roast chicken although I have to confess I’ve never roasted one by myself. And I do love the beautiful green of the lemons!

  2. Dan

    Yum. That’s broadly what we did yesterday too, though with some slightly more British variables alongside the dead bird that has suffered further indignity by way of a lemon. BTW – re those green lemons. What’s that about? Are they a specific type of lemon that’s more like a lime? Are lemons and limes really that different (botanically)?

    • rachel

      They are just not very ripe that’s all, although my fruttivendolo uses them just so. One of the five has slightly riper and yellower than the rest so I used that. The flesh is still sweet though. Botanical difference! I am citrus ignorant but I’m about to put this right. See you soon R

  3. You can’t go wrong with advice from your Granny or Marcella

  4. I have never tried resting it in the hot over for 20 minutes. I will give this a shot next time I roast a chicken! Like you, I don’t believe in cheap meat. I have been getting a meat CSA from a local farm for the past year and one of my favorites is when I receive a whole chicken to roast. It is the best sort of comfort food!

  5. Amazing post, i could literally cry for Roast chicken from back home! Reading your words nearly brought a tear to my eye, remembering my nana’s and my mum’s rooast chicken. And it’s so true about the price! ouchy! what used to be as cheap as chips eh?! thanks rachel!

  6. What a beautiful ode to roast chicken! I roast a few each year around this time, too, such a simple and comforting dinner. I love Simon Hopkinson’s book–fantastic in its own right, and turned me on to Elizabeth David–so thanks for the reminder about leaving the bird in the cooling oven. I’ll try that next time.

  7. I agree that good and well treated chicken comes at a price, we could all just eat less of it but buy the good stuff instead! Thank you for the link to Emanuela, I walked almost right past that place last time I was in Rome and I am have been looking for an enamel bowl for salads and bread dough for a long time! Another good reason to return to the eternal city!

  8. makingromaroma

    I just put the baby down and scrambled out to read this post in a rare moment of solitude.

    Floundering/flourishing adulthood, that is a familiar phenomenon; I suppose an all-flourishing adulthood would have some perks, although it sounds quite dull, besides there is a lot one can learn through all that floundering.

    I’ll have to give this chicken roasting method of yours a shot. My old standby recipe – a spatchcocked version from Jacques Pepin – is great. However, it roasts at such high heat the smoke alarm (strategically placed just above the oven!?) inevitably goes off throughout our entire condo complex. My neighbors love that.

    Your writing is lovely, as usual.

    • rachel

      A baby – congratulations and love to you all. My baby (13 months now) is presently bashing a chair repeatedly against the wall and it is 6 in the morning – my neighbours love it. Ah the joy. Actually there is a lot of joy.
      This is a pretty baby compatible recipe that needs little attention.
      More love Rx

  9. Laura

    loe the recipe,love the way you write…love youX

  10. foodelf

    There’s something so celebratory about a roast chicken and I’m always astonished that people seldom make it at home – it’s so easy and the bounty is not just the chicken, but the fragrance, the general gorgeousness and, of course, all the leftovers. That includes the carcass to make stock.

    Whenever I’ve moved into a new place, a roast chicken is always the first thing I cook to inaugurate the kitchen.

    I’ve never tried the oven-resting approach, but certainly plan to very soon.

  11. Eha

    I just effortlessly floated ‘down’ the story with a big smile on my face . . . thank you! Here food was love or love was food or whatever . . . and lucky Luca living with someone who appreciates his palate for fine things in the tummy . . .

    • rachel

      Maybe it makes up for the fact she is a grumpy impatient mum at times. food was love or love was food or whatever – well put.

  12. veeery similar to how i do it! and yes, good chicken is the prerequisite to yummy chicken. One addition that we love and i would like to suggest you: put potatoes (in rough chunks, not peeled!) under the chicken, at the bottom of the pan. You will thank me 🙂

  13. I haven’t roasted a chicken in a long while … reading your post made me want to rush out and buy a chicken pronto, and cook it à la Rachel.Luca is so lucky to have a mummy like you … a yummy mummy in more ways than one!

  14. Oooh I love a roast chicken, it’s pretty much a weekly event in this house and I cut my lemons in half – never again. I will make sure to prick 37 times.
    I am about to embark on chicken pie for tonight’s tea from this week’s leftovers. Marmite makes a very good coating for the skin prior to cooking. I hope you have some, smuggled across borders.
    Of course it is necessary to peer through every other railing, but tell him next time he must ring the bell 19 times.

    • rachel

      Kath I knew you’d understand! And you did it twice, my mind boggles, how, how, how. I always have at least three pots of marmite here in Rome, brought over by my mum. Chicken pie with marmite coating, that sounds blooming delicious. x

      • I pricked 37 times and it was delicious. How does it make such a difference? It does though, it definitely does.
        Glad to hear about the Marmite supply, life would be wrong without it. Two just means the bell gets rung half as much because they end up arguing so much about whose turn it is next. x

  15. There aroma of roasting chicken is challenged only by the smell of baking bread or freshly brewed coffee to evoke feelings of well-being. We always roast our birds with lemon halves inside, after rubbing the exterior with the juice and a bit of evoo, s&p. We also never bother basting–it’s always seemed more placebo effect than anything else. Pricking the lemon (sounds like the name of Martin Amis short story) and inserting it whole is new to me and we’ll definitely give it a try. Lovely post, as usual–“…the cooking equivalent of a vinyl fadeout…” Yes. Ken

    • rachel

      I am glad to have confiirmation on the basting, also it impedes the crisping I think. I think our houses may smell quite similar and maybe they sound quite similar too. Coming over.

  16. It speaks volumes how much I love your writing and photos because even though I don’t like meat, I still enjoyed this post! There was something wonderfully Proustian about your love of roast chicken. Perhaps if I’d had you to prepare one for me, I’d never have given it up .

  17. Every couple of weeks I roast a chicken pretty much the same way, except I cut the lemons, and now I’m going to try this prick trick! 🙂 The husband and I eat most of it standing over the roasting pan in the kitchen with a glass of wine.

    • rachel

      Prick trick – well put. Standing next to the sticky roasting tin with a glass of wine in hand sounds like my kind of supper – when can I come?

  18. Love the way your write. And eat.
    And of course your salt & pepper is to chicken as gin is to tonic reference makes you a woman after my heart. Happy Tuesday.

  19. I love roast chicken, especially the scent of it, but there is always something slightly wrong with MY roast chicken — too dry, too stringy. I can’t wait to try out these new tips. Thanks for a lovely post.

  20. Amy

    Loved reading this post, the writing was so nice. I don’t eat (or make, for that matter) roast chicken nearly enough, and now after reading this I feel like I am depriving myself of some very delicious and happy meals. Thanks for sharing this.

  21. As always, it is such a pleasure reading your words, indeed words to eat by. If you had a book I’d buy it!
    I’m not a huge chicken fan (much more into ducks personally). My problem with chicken is that I don’t like the white meat. Unfortunately, instead of finding a white meat guy, I found a guy who feels exactly the same about his chicken, and we just end up eating the dark juicy bits and sighing at the untouched white breast. Over the years we have given up roasting whole birds, we just buy the chicken thighs and call it a day.
    After reading the post I am defiantly in the mood for a whole sexy bird.
    I was wondering how the classic roasted potatoes would fit in? would you include them with the chicken or roast them separately? Have you ever tried shoving garlic cloves and rosemary, thyme etc. under the skin?

    • rachel

      I sometimes put a clove or two of garlic up the bottom too. Herbs under the skin, interesting, noted. Potatoes, yes often, parboiled, halved, in the same pan when I crank the oven up.
      Now lets talk about Duck, which I never cook, but would like to start, Do you have a blog I should be consulting? I hope so.
      A pleasure Limonata

  22. Hello Rachel, I am blushing for getting an answer after lurking around for ages…
    I don’t have a food blog or A blog for that matter…there seem to be so many good ones out there (especially your writing if I may say so…)
    I do how ever LOVE cooking and do it daily. I also love cookbooks. My ultimate favorite writer is MFH Fisher, more for her words then recipes. I am not very good at following recipes. I use them as inspiration.
    That being said I did roast a beautiful chicken today. I used your recipe as a guideline, but stuffed some sage under the skin, as well as garlic cloves, olive oil and butter. The rosemary and thyme went up the bottom, with the pierced lemon (I pricked it only 36 times jus to be rebellious). Under the chicken I cut in halves small potatoes (which I didn’t par- boil, your note came later) and some jerusalem artichokes (inspired by Ottolehngi)
    As for duck…we live in duck country- the south west of France. Most of it is raised for foie gras, so the rest is cheeper then chicken (breast, thighs, whole bird and even duck hearts). We are fans since there is more dark meat then chicken and no one is stuck with the white meat.
    The pleasure is mine 🙂

    • rachel

      I adore jerusalem artichokes. I think you should start a blog and the first post (if I may be so bold) should be about duck!
      You are the third person to mention MFK Fisher to me this week -noted thank you.

      • Three people in a week…three is the magic number. There is an Israeli expression that says: “third time ice cream”.
        Curious to know if you’ve read MFK.
        If I do ever write a blog, the first piece of writing will be a duck recipe. promise!

  23. I have long followed this way of roasting chicken, lemon just so, (plus, herbs chopped and mixed in butter under the skin) up until the perfect vinyl fadeout. I’ve never known about the 20 minute oven door ajar resting-cooling time. brilliant.
    delightful, robust, celebratory, terrific writing. thanks, rach!

  24. I have green lemons pushed on me just about every sunday. Takes some—she cries! I have already have lemons—I cry! Take some! Basta! I’m in the mood for roast chicken now. And pricking a lemon. I might just do it to do it.

  25. Steve

    I’m with limonada in that I like to jam up a good fistful of home grown thyme up the rump along with the lemon. Adds that fragrant sweetness which permeates the meat so beautifully. Aw – beauty! I’m going out and rustling myself a chicken today! Thanks Rachel!

    • rachel

      Steve it is so nice to have you reading. We would like a bird with thyme up the rump when we come over for dinner lots of love to you R (and L)

  26. christine

    Rachel, you are such a beautiful writer. I usually like to split my organic birds and then pan roast skin down and flip in the oven to cook (usually with a little cream, lemon zest and thyme sprinkled over) since it’s faster, but this makes me want to roast a whole one so badly! Sunday, perhaps. Can’t beat a roast on Sunday.

  27. So, what’s with the magical 37 pricks? Maybe I’ll just have to try it and find out for myself. Also, what the heck is groundnut oil? Okay…I’ll look it up. Now I want (need) some roast chicken with properly crisp skin, and homemade mayonnaise.

    • rachel

      Hi Denise, 37 is a magic number, Actually it is the number I plucked out of the air when I first thrust the cocktail stick into the lemon (I think Marcella Hazan suggests 30 pricks). Thank goodness you noted the oil, I should have changed that (having been told some disturbing facts about groundnut oil) to sunflower or grape seed oil. Baci to you

  28. SRM

    QQ — is it absolutely necessary to use an enamel roasting pan? Can I use a glass pyrex dish or a Le Creuset pot (without lid)? Making this tonight and have been thinking about it all week!!

    • rachel

      Yes yes of course you can – must amend post – before buying my tin I used both a pyrex dish and my le cru. I think the dish is probably better. happy roasting.

  29. Cold roast chicken with mayonnaise is one of my favourite things to eat (along with a cold roast chicken sandwich made with slices from a crusty white loaf, butter and sea salt). We made a Simon Hopkinson chicken last week (my first time ever using his recipe) and that magical resting time in the oven worked wonders, I’ll have to try your trick with the lemon next time…

  30. k

    Looks amazing! Have you ever tried this method with a turkey? I’ve yet to find a perfect turkey-roasting method.

  31. I recently made a roast chicken with a bird from my local farmer’s market. It was just divine. Nothing beats a good chicken. Love all your tips, too!

  32. Of course, now I want to roast a chicken. I will definitely use your technique
    As you have already figured out, little boys–as well as bigger ones– often play with something inappropriate and slightly dangerous. Enjoy the journey.

    • rachel

      Today I found him clutching a hammer in one hand (a small hammer but a hammer no less) and a whisk. I think some flat re-jigging is in order. I love the journey, just wish it involved more sleep! hope you are well? x

  33. Lindsey

    I have been afraid of roasting a chicken since I began cooking many years ago. The trussing, potential undercooking, overcooking, it was too much. Well, your post inspired me and tonight I tackled the beast. My goodness, was it scrumptious! Simple and straightforward. I don’t think I have ever made something so delicious. I served it with some mashed yukon potatoes and roasted brussels sprouts. Perfect comfort food. Thank you for the inspiration!

    • rachel

      I love hearing that recipes have really worked out – thanks for letting me know. With mash and raosted sprouts – yum. I miss brussel sprouts, you can find them here in Italy but they are expensive and lame.

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  38. Such a wonderful way to roast a chicken! Superb! Thank you.

  39. Would you mind if I blog about your recipe? Of course I’ll credit you. I barely ever make chicken any other way now.

  40. milton

    if your in italy why not get your hands on those beautiful yellow lemons from amalfi coast juicy thick skinned with loads a lemon oil to perfume & flavor your bird. for he rest i follow marcella hazans recipe who uses fresh pepper and salt from the mill to season nicely allover and inside but no butter or oil, and not sure about the number of piercings i just take a fork and jam it in the lemon all over sides and top ends (the lemon should release as much flavor juice and oil as possible). i turn the bird carefully after the first third of the baking time 30 – 40 minutes (cooking temp. first hour 160 celcius last half hour you might go as high as 175-180 degrees celcius this will keep the bird juicy) onto its back between two wooden spoons so not to tare the skin for another 60 – 80 minutes (the free rang chickens here are between 1.5 – 1.8 kg !) when done (you should smell the lemon through the oven door !) i remove the lemon(s) i hold the chicken vertical so the juice of the lemon flows in to my gravy and rest the bird. i do skim the gravy of excess fat before i put it in a sauce boat so guests can help them selves. i like to add seasoned rosemary potatoes baked with garlic to the bird but i like to bake them in separate dish so they don’t soak the fat from the bird. the magic comes from the big yellow ripe amalfi lemons enjoy !

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