As often as I roast chicken, I’ve never once written about it. What’s there to say that hasn’t already been said? I just do it the way my Greek grandma did and, for whatever inexplicable reason, it comes out great every time. I don’t have a special technique to share. (I rarely even use a rack, because my grandma didn’t.) There’s no magic ingredient. (Lemon, olive oil, salt and oregano. Period.) It’s just carefully basted, made with love and very lemony.
Aside from my one attempt to roast chicken like Thomas Keller, this Herb-Butter Roast Chicken is the first time I ever diverted from my grandma’s “recipe.” All thanks to a harvest festival at Stone Barns, a non-profit agriculture center outside of bustling New York City. Livestock and vegetables are grown on the 80-acre, four-seasons, sustainable farm, most of which are sold to the renowned Blue Hill restaurant on the property. The rest are sold at the farmers market where I picked up salad greens, spinach, carrots, kale, eggs, garlic, a bunch of fresh herbs and a chicken. Ingredients that I was determined to turn into a meal made entirely of local ingredients.
I immediately knew that I wanted roast chicken, but had to rethink my usual Greek-style approach. Because, well, there are no lemons growing in upstate NY. And that’s not to mention that my favorite olive oil isn’t even domestic! I’d have to use butter and, luckily, though not from Stone Barns, my butter was churned locally.
Butter roasted chicken. Yes.
Wait. Even better: HERB-butter roasted chicken. Because nothing makes better butter than garlic.
I got to making a compound butter using the herbs and garlic I’d purchased at Stone Barns. And, I admit it. I threw in some lemon zest. (I’m Greek. I can’t help it!!) I loosened the skin around the chicken breast and spread some of the butter underneath. Then I slathered the rest all over the bird, along with salt and pepper. I shoved lemon in the cavity (I had to use the lemon that I zested!), trussed the chicken and roasted it up.
I may have a new favorite roast chicken. And, even though it’s not as lemony as my grandma’s version, I think she would approve. Because, really, the essence of her cooking, which she learned in the old country, is about putting together fresh ingredients that you find locally with love and care. And even though I used a rack this time, this Herb-Butter Roasted Chicken qualifies.
Herb-Butter Roasted Chicken
4 Tbsp softened butter
2 Tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
zest of 1 small lemon, plus the lemon, cut in half
1 large roasting chicken
salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine softened butter with herbs, garlic and lemon zest.
2. Wash the bird and pat thoroughly dry. Using a paring knife (to create an opening) and your fingers (to slip through the opening, between the skin and meat), carefully loosen the skin on the chicken breast. Spread some of the butter underneath the skin. Slather the rest of the butter on the skin, all over the bird. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Stuff lemon halves inside the cavity. Truss the bird and place on a rack placed in a roasting pan. Roast, basting every half hour or so, for about 1 1/2 hours or until the skin is golden brown and crisped in places. (Cooking time will depend on the size of you chicken.) If, at any point, the pan begins to smoke, pour a little water or chicken broth in the bottom of the pan to cook with/thicken the drippings.