(recipe, Simon Hopkinson)
- ½ cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
- 1 chicken (about 4 lbs.)
- Salt and pepper
- 1 lemon
- Several sprigs of fresh 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 pan that will accommodate it with room to spare. Season liberally with salt, pepper, and the juice of the lemon. Put the herbs and garlic inside the bird's 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 a further 30 to 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 pan.
- Turn off the oven, 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 pan. I see no point in making a gravy in that old-fashioned way with the roasting fat, flour, and vegetable cooking water. With this roasting method, what you end up with in the pan 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.
Another idea, popular with the Italians, is sometimes known as "wet roasting." Pour some white wine or a little chicken stock, or both, or even just water around the bottom of the pan at the beginning of cooking. This will produce more of a sauce and can be enriched further to produce altogether different results. For example, you can add chopped tomatoes, diced bacon, cream, endless different herbs, mushrooms, spring vegetables, spices — particularly saffron and ginger — or anything else you fancy.