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Roast chicken

Serves 2-4, depending

It is hard to roast a whole chicken without ruining it, because, as countless writers have told us the breast often dries to sawdust before the thighs cook through. Roast chicken is so good when it does come out right, however, that no less a luminary than Simon Hopkinson has made it the title of a book. It is worth trying to master a steady technique and we have one that, we think, is even better than Hopkinson’s. The Editor uses a hot oven and protects the breast with both butter and bacon. It usually works. When roasting a whole chicken it is best to get a good one, either free-range, Bell & Evans or something similar, rather than a cheaper battery bird.

Save kitchen scraps to feed the hens!

- a 3½ - 4 lb chicken

- about 2 oz unsalted butter sliced into ¼ inch pats

- 2-4 slices bacon

- salt and pepper

- several springs of rosemary, thyme or marjoram, or a combination of them.

Preheat the oven to 475°

  1. Separate the skin from the breast and thighs of the chicken and slide the pats of butter evenly along the meat under the skin.
  2. Pepper generously and salt the chicken all over, then drape the bacon in a latticed pattern to cover across the breast and drumsticks. Shove the herbs inside the cavity.
  3. Smear a little butter in a shallow roasting pan and put the chicken in the pan and put the chicken in the pan.
  4. Roast the chicken for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on its size and unfathomable mystery variables. The chicken is done as soon as the juices in the thigh run clear: The drumsticks also will be easy to wiggle.
  5. Let the chicken rest for at least 10 minutes before you carve and serve it with the bacon.
  6. Bread sauce is essential.


- You can boost the oven temperature if you dare, but watch the bacon. If you worry by disposition, reduce the temperature to 375° after 20 minutes and roast your bird for another 45 minutes or so.

- If the bacon looks like it could burn, just remove and reserve it. If so, then baste the chicken with some of the pan juices or, if the pan is dry, with a little more butter.

- You could add a splash of wine to the pan at the outset of roasting: At the very least it smells good while cooking. I always do add a little fino or amontillado Sherry. One or the other improves the following sauce too.

- You can make a thin pan gravy by straining the dripping into a small saucepan and adding a little Kitchen Bouquet and chicken stock. Rapidly whisking the mixture together over high heat. It will not require salt or pepper.

- The whole point of roast chicken, however, is bread sauce, which deserves its own recipe chain elsewhere in the practical.

- The Editor is not sure the fresh herbs actually add much but likes the concept.

- Sausages frequently have accompanied roast chicken in Britain, and ham in Ireland, and on both counts sometimes still do; good ideas. Little Jones sausages, Things We Like, work particularly well.

- It is traditional to serve roast chicken with game chips, which are hard to make. A reasonable substitute is Bistro Chips. They are thick, latticed potato chips available at upmarket groceries.

- A simple recipe for roast potatoes: Take enough redskin potatoes for the number of people dining with you, quarter them (the redskins, not the people) and put them in a shallow iron or enamelled oven dish. Do not crowd them. Put the dish on the stove over medium heat and flick just enough duck or goose fat into the dish to film the potatoes once it melts. Salt the potatoes with abandon, toss them in the salty fat and rearrange them skin side down before shoving them in the oven with your chicken. The potatoes are done when they pucker a bit, and the cut surfaces acquire some crunch and gold. They may take a few minutes longer than the chicken, which is serendipitous; they may be served hot from the oven after your chicken rests and you carved it. If you have no fowl fat use olive oil or, horrors, tasty lard.

- You will want some carrots and a green vegetable with your roast chicken.