• Yield: 4 servings

  • Time: 15 minutes prep, 45 minutes cooking, 1 hour total

This is the best method I know for making perfect roast chicken. Even novice cooks find it foolproof. By some mysterious chemistry (the discovery of Marcella Hazan) roasting a chicken with a lemon in its cavity guarantees exceptionally crisp skin, very moist flavorful flesh and abundant pan juices, with no added fat: in short everything one could ask of a roast chicken but which ordinarily achieved by slathering the bird with butter.


I roast the bird breast-side-down for the first 20 minutes so that the juices flow to the breast, and the breast, which takes less time to cook than the legs, is protected from intense oven heat.



  • One 3-pound roasting chicken, rinsed and patted dry, neck and giblets reserved

  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, thyme or savory leaves in any combination

  • 3 garlic cloves: 1 peeled and crushed, 2 lightly smashed

  • 1 large lemon, washed

  • 2 medium carrots, coarsely chopped

  • 2 shallots, peeled, and cut in half lengthwise

  • 3 sprigs thyme

  • 1/4 cup dry white wine or Madeira, or a mixture of the two



Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place a small piece of foil just large enough to cover the chicken’s breast in a roasting pan; brush it with a little oil. Set aside.


Rinse the bird inside and out with cold water; pat dry with paper toweling. With a thin, sharp knife, cut the excess fat from the neck and hind cavity of the chicken and discard. Sprinkle the chicken evenly inside and out with salt and pepper, rubbing it into skin. Stuff the herb leaves and the crushed garlic clove into the cavity. Prick the lemon about 25 times each with a toothpick or skewer. Stuff it into the cavity of chicken. Using toothpicks or trussing needles, pin the neck and hind cavities closed.


Place the chicken breast down over the oiled piece of foil in the roasting pan. Nestle the neck, giblets, carrot, shallot, smashed garlic cloves and thyme around the chicken. Roast for 15 minutes.


Turn the bird breast up and carefully peel off the foil taking care not to rip the skin; discard. Roast 20 minutes longer, then increase the oven temperature to 400'F. Roast the chicken 20 to25 minutes longer, until the skin is brown and crisp and the juices run clear when the leg is pricked with a kitchen fork. An instant read thermometer inserted in the breast should read 140'. Remove the toothpick from hind end. Lift the chicken with two wooden spoons and tilt it slightly so the juices run out of the cavity into pan. Place the chicken on a platter and keep warm.


Pour the pan juices into a small measuring cup. Let settle 3 to 4 minutes, then carefully skim the fat off the surface with a tablespoon. Pour the juices back into the roasting pan set over moderate heat. Add the wine and simmer, stirring to dissolve any browned bits on the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes until the alcohol has cooked off. Skim off any fat or scum that rises to the surface. Strain the sauce into a small bowl, discard the neck and giblets and taste for seasoning. You will have about 1/2 cup of flavorful, natural juices.


Carve the chicken, dividing it into four equal portions. Pour any juices that have collected on plate into the sauce. For a lemony sauce, squeeze the lemon into the pan juices. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the pan juices over each portion of chicken.

Copyright 2012, Sally Schneider, The Improvised Life.

Sally Schneider
A former chef, Sally Schneider has won numerous awards—including four James Beard awards—for her books and magazine writing. She is creator of the lifestyle blog Improvised Life, a featured blogger on The Atlantic Monthly's Food Blog, and author of The Improvisational Cook and A New Way to Cook. She has served as a contributing editor to both Saveur and Food & Wine, and her work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Saveur, Food & Wine, SELF and Connoisseur.