Straight out of the oven: Simon Hopkinson's perfect roast chicken. (S. Irene Virbila / Los Angeles…)
For years I faithfully made Marcella Hazan’s roast chicken, which basically involved roasting the bird with a lemon in its cavity. But once I tried Simon Hopkinson’s recipe from his quite wonderful cookbook “Roast Chicken and Other Stories,” there was no going back.
I absolutely crave this chicken and could eat it once a week, no problem. What’s the difference? Well, butter. Hopkinson was famously the chef of Sir Terence Conran’s restaurant Bibendum in London and since those heady days has gone on to write a regular column for the Telegraph in London. Last year he did a food show on BBC called "The Good Cook," which I dearly wish they would show on BBC America.
His taste is unfailingly on the mark, and every recipe exudes a sense of celebration and joy. He’s not into fussy food, just very good uncomplicated cooking.
Here’s that chicken:
Simon Hopkinson's perfect roast chicken
1/2 cup good butter, at room temperature
1 (4-pound) free range chicken
Salt and pepper
Several sprigs of thyme or tarragon, or a mixture of the two
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Smear the butter with your hands all over the bird. Put the chicken in a roasting tin that will accommodate it with room to spare.
Season liberally with salt and pepper and squeeze over the juice of the lemon. Put the herbs and garlic inside the cavity, together with the squeezed-out lemon halves -- this will add a fragrant lemony flavor to the finished dish.
Roast the chicken in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Baste, then turn the oven temperature down to 375 degrees and roast for another 30-45 minutes with occasional basting.
The bird should be golden brown all over with a crisp skin and have buttery, lemony juices of a nut-brown color in the bottom of the tin.
Turn the oven off, leaving the door ajar, and leave the chicken to rest for at least 15 minutes before carving. This enables the flesh to relax gently, retaining the juices in the meat and ensuring easy, trouble-free carving and a moist bird. Carve the bird to suit yourself; I like to do it in the roasting tin.
With this roasting method, what you end up with in the tin is an amalgamation of butter, lemon juice and chicken juices. That's all. It is a perfect homogenization of fats and liquids. All it needs is a light whisk or a stir, and you have the most wonderful "gravy" imaginable. If you wish to add extra flavor, you can scoop the garlic and herbs out of the chicken cavity, stir them into the gravy and heat through. Strain before serving.
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