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


Roast Chicken:

  • One 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)


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—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.


4 servings