Marcella Hazan’s Perfect Roast Chicken

This recipe comes from Marcella Hazan’s The Essentials of Italian Cooking. At 722 pages long, it’s an endeavour to read, but this recipe is a must. Simply, it is a chicken stuffed with two lemons and roasted to perfection. By cooking the chicken breast-side down, it stays moist and the juices from the lemon give it a hint of extra flavour.

Having tried and tested this recipe, I have only adjusted cooking times slightly, as well as a slightly easier and updated way to prepare the chicken so you don’t have to get your hands too dirty. I have also included a recipe for roast potatoes to help with the timings of a roast, as this can often be the trickiest part. However, if you’re looking for a lighter, fresher meal, it’s perfect paired with salads, simple vegetable sides, and extras such as pesto.

The key to this recipe is cooking times – 15 minutes per 500g, plus an extra 15 minutes to finish it off. Any longer and it’ll be dry. Remember this, and you can add whatever you want to the recipe.

Perfect Lemon Roast Chicken

A 1.5kg chicken will serve about 4 people with plenty of sides. This recipe will take you approximately 2 hours.

Tip: I’d recommend buying a good-quality, free range chicken, as fewer ingredients mean good-quality is key. It will probably set you back about £8-£10, but given this recipe requires so few other ingredients it ends up being a fairly cheap meal.

For this recipe, you will need:

  • 1.5kg free-range chicken
  • Two lemons
  • Salt and pepper (freshly ground pepper and sea salt)
  • Waxy potatoes – I normally allow 3 medium-sized per person (Maris Piper, King Edward, or Rooster are best)
  • Vegetable oil

Preheat your oven to 200°C (or 180°C Fan/Gas Mark 6/400°F).

Start by taking your chicken and removing the elastic band holding its legs together. Don’t cut it – rather, remove it like you would a hairband. Keep the elastic as you will need this later. Season the inside of the bird with salt and pepper. Either use your hands, or you can use some kitchen roll or a glove to spread the seasoning round the inside.

Squeeze and roll the two lemons in your hands, putting pressure on them so they are nice and soft. You might need to bash them slightly to get them really tender. Prick them all over with a knife to ensure the juices can run out. Then, put the two lemons into the chicken cavity – if it’s too much of a squeeze, halve one of the lemons.

Using the elastic band, tie the legs back together. Make sure this isn’t too tight, or the chicken will split as it cooks. Place the chicken breast side-down in the roasting tray (upside down from how you’d normally cook it) and put it to one side (not in the fridge).

Prepare the potatoes by peeling and cutting into quarters. Put in a pan of boiling water to par boil for approximately 10 minutes, until they are softened but not quite cooked through. Drain, then scuff the potatoes by shaking them in the pan with the lid on. Leave in a colander to cool.

Meanwhile, pour a few glugs of vegetable oil into a roasting tray – the oil should cover the bottom of the tray, without coming up more than a couple of millimetres. Put in the oven to heat up for 10 minutes. Once heated, add the cooled potatoes to the oil and season with sea salt. Put back in the oven on the higher shelf, and place the chicken on the shelf below. Set your oven timer to 30 minutes, using this time to prepare any other sides you will be having. Just remember to keep an eye on your potatoes and toss them if they brown too quickly.

When your timer goes off, take the chicken from the oven and turn over using two forks, being careful not to puncture the skin too much. Take this opportunity to check your potatoes again and give them a toss. Put back in the oven and set your oven timer for another 30 minutes.

At the end of the 30 minutes, you can check your chicken is cooked by sticking a knife into the section between the breast and thigh. The juices that run out should be clear. Remove from the oven and cover in foil for 15 minutes – if you cut it too early, it will dry out. Tip the potatoes onto some kitchen towel to drain the oil. You can them put them on a plate and leave in the oven to stay warm and crisp. Use the last 15 minutes to prepare and cook any sides you will be having.

Carve your chicken, and enjoy! After a few times of cooking this, it will become second nature. It’s a minimal-effort roast dinner, and perfect for impressing guests, or even a comforting dinner for one.

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