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The Confident Cook

When roasting chicken, the details make the difference

Roast chicken with Meyer lemon and shallotsSally Pasley Vargas for The Boston Globe

The quest to achieve a well-roasted chicken inspires strong and varied opinions. It is tempting, therefore, to ignore all advice, shove the bird into the oven, and gloss over the details. And that, as they say, is where the devil lies. A few small steps will yield a chicken with juicy meat, crisp skin, and a little sauce to boot.

Start with the bird. Organic or at least hormone-free chickens really do taste better, and buying them supports the farmers who have gone to the trouble to make them available to you. Thoroughly pat the chicken dry with paper towels inside and out. When salting the skin and cavity, be bold and use plenty. In this recipe we bolster flavor by tucking chopped lemon rind, garlic, and rosemary under the skin. If you have time, once it is seasoned, let the chicken rest in the refrigerator, uncovered, for one hour or up to 24 hours. The salt and air circulation draw out surface moisture, so the bird cooks up with crisp skin.


While trussing isn’t absolutely necessary, to keep the chicken in fine form, tie the legs together with a piece of twine. A meat thermometer or accurate instant read thermometer abolishes guesswork and assures the chicken will not dry out from overcooking. Once the bird is out of the oven, give it a rest of at least 10 minutes. The juices that rush to the surface from the oven’s heat need time to retreat back into the flesh, so they stay in the chicken and don’t flow onto the carving board when you start slicing.

To cut the chicken into serving pieces, set the chicken on a cutting board. Use a sharp chef’s knife to separate each leg from the breast: Steady the chicken with a carving fork, slice straight down through the skin all the way to the hip joint, and remove the whole leg from the breast. Cut each leg through the joint between the leg and the drumstick to make four pieces. Next, position the knife along one side of the center breastbone. Slice straight down, and then curve your knife and slice to release the breast from the carcass. Repeat on the other side of the breastbone. If you like, cut each breast in half.


Meyer lemons are less acidic than regular lemons and make a lovely sauce. Don’t forget to skim the fat from the pan drippings and serve the sauce alongside the chicken. A well-roasted chicken is a beautiful thing.

Sally Pasley Vargas can be reached at