Roast Chicken:

  • 1 4-pound chicken
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon softened butter

Gravy or Jus (optional):

  • 2 pounds chicken drumsticks, wings, or backs, chopped into 2 pieces each
  • 1 large carrot, cut into 1-inch sections
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2 teaspoons flour to make the gravy (optional)

This recipe contains: Dairy, Meat

Recipe notes: To avoid the inherent problem of the breasts cooking faster than the thighs and drying out by the time the thighs are done, cover the breasts with a sheet of buttered aluminum foil for the first half of the roasting. Many roast chicken recipes call for putting something in the cavity, often a lemon, but since there’s a membrane that separates the cavity from the meat, this does little to enhance the chicken’s flavor. Other recipes call for stuffing the chicken, often with elaborate mixtures, but in order to cook the stuffing through and make sure it’s hot enough to kill bacteria, you have to overcook the chicken. Starting the chicken in a very hot oven ensures that it will brown. If it starts to get too brown, you can always turn the oven down, but if it starts out too low in the oven, it may not brown by the time it cooks through. Roast chicken in a heavy-bottomed pan as close to the size of the chicken as possible—iron skillets are often just the right size. If you spread the giblets around the chicken so there’s no space in the roasting pan that’s not covered, this prevents the juices from burning. Don’t use a roasting rack. A rack keeps the chicken above the roasting pan. The roasting pan gets very hot and as the juices from the chicken drip down into it, they burn and smoke up the kitchen. For even cooking and a prettier finished bird, you can truss the chicken. To truss the chicken, slide a length of kitchen twine or unflavored dental floss under the tail and about an inch further back. Cross the string over the drumsticks, and then tuck it under the drumsticks on the opposite sides. Bring the string along the sides of the chicken over the unfolded wings and flip the chicken over. Pull the string over the back of the chicken. Tie a knot and tuck under wings.


Roast Chicken

James Peterson

Cookbook Author

“For some inexplicable reason, roast chicken intimidates even experienced cooks, which is strange since it’s almost impossible to get wrong. You can overcook it, which means the breast meat will be a little dry or it may not brown, but in either case it will still be perfectly delicious. As with any chicken dish, the secret to success is to avoid overcooking. It’s perfectly fine to serve a roast chicken with no sauce at all, but a light gravy or jus (a simple gravy that has not been thickened) will enhance its flavor.” –James Peterson

Yield: 4 servings


Preheat oven to 450ºF.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Take a sheet of aluminum foil about a foot and a half long and fold it over itself so it’s 3 sheets thick. You’ll need to fold it into a vaguely trapezoid shape to get it to cover the breasts and not the thighs. Smear one side with butter and place it, buttered side down, over the chicken breasts.

If you are making gravy, spread the chicken parts and vegetables in a roasting pan or skillet just large enough to hold them single layer and roast for 20 minutes.

Place the chicken in a pan just large enough to hold it or in the pan with the chicken parts. Roast the chicken for 25 minutes, take off the foil, and roast for 15 minutes more. Check the temperature by sticking an instant-read thermometer about 3 inches in through the skin between the breast and the thigh. When it reads 140ºF, take out the chicken. If you don’t have a thermometer, judge the doneness by lifting the chicken and tilting it so some of the juices run out of the cavity. If the juices are pink and cloudy, the chicken isn’t done; if they are clear but streaked with red, it’s done. If they’re perfectly clear, with no red, the chicken is overdone. Let the chicken rest in a warm place loosely covered with aluminum foil for 10 minutes before serving.

If you are making the jus or gravy, look in the roasting pan to see if the juices have caramelized. If they have, the bottom of the pan will be coated with brown and a layer of clear fat will be floating on top, at this point, just pour off and discard the fat. If they haven’t, you’ll see brown liquid combined with the fat. The mixture of fat and juices may even be cloudy, meaning the juices have emulsified with the fat—something to avoid. If the juices haven’t caramelized, put the roasting pan on the stove and boil the juices until they caramelize on the bottom and separate from the fat—you can now pour off the fat. You now have a roasting pan with a layer of caramelized juices and no or very little fat. Add a small amount of water or chicken stock, put the pan on the stove over medium heat, and scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon for a couple of minutes to dissolve the caramelized juices. Strain the juices and serve in a heated sauce boat.

If you want to thicken the juices into a gravy, leave about a tablespoon of fat in the juices, add 2 teaspoons of flour, stir it in the fat over the heat for a minute, and then add water or chicken broth.

Carve the chicken into 2 breasts and 2 thighs with the wings attached. If you need to divide things more equitably, cut the breasts crosswise in half and cut the thighs away from the drumsticks. Give everyone a half a breast and a thigh or drumstick.