I recently returned from Europe, and I have a hankering for authentic Italian food…at least as authentic as you can get it when you aren’t in Italy. Marcella Hazan, author of the authoritative Italian cookbook “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking,” has a wonderful recipe for roast chicken with lemons. The chicken turns out juicy and flavorful every time. The recipe is very simple. It makes a chicken that is great for a weekday meal with family, as well as for dinner guests.
I roasted the chicken in my ever-so-versatile Iron Mountain (by Griswold) cast iron chicken pan (circa 1940s), though a cast iron Dutch oven – either enameled or black iron – would also work beautifully, as would a smaller cast iron baking pan. The cast iron browns the chicken and crisps the skin, making a gorgeous presentation. It is helpful to have a pan that is not too large for the chicken, so that the chicken cooks in its juices. A cast iron oval roaster is particularly well-suited to roast chicken.
If you’re not concerned about saving your dollars, the Staub roaster below is specifically made to roast up to a 5 pound chicken – it even has a rooster handle!1
Marcella Hazan’s Roast Chicken With Lemons
(as made by me!)
Easy prep. 4 generous servings, ~2 hours cook time.
- Fresh 3- to 4-pound organic free-range chicken
- Freshly ground salt and pepper
- 2 small-ish lemons (they need to be on the smaller side so that they will fit into the chicken cavity). Choose lemons that are ripe and juicy – not lemons that are hard to touch.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange oven racks so that your pan will fit onto a rack in the top third of the oven.
- Rinse the chicken inside and out in cold water. Drain. Pat dry with paper towels. Cut off any excess bits of chicken fat using a kitchen scissors.
- Grind a generous amount of salt and pepper onto the chicken and rub it on so that it evenly covers the bird.
- Wash the lemons in cold water and dry them with a paper towel. Release the interior juice of each lemon by placing it onto the countertop and rolling it back and forth as you put firm downward pressure on it with your palm. Using a sharp toothpick/small skewer, puncture each lemon in at at least 20 places.
- Place both lemons into the cavity of the chicken. Close up the opening of the cavity with toothpicks/skewers. It does not need to be airtight.
- Tie the legs together at the knuckles with kitchen twine. The point of tying the legs is simply to keep them in position so that they do not spread during cooking, which would break the skin. They do not need to be tied tightly together.
- Put the chicken into a cast iron pan which fits the chicken well, breast facing down. Do not add cooking fat. Place it in the preheated oven. There is no need to cover the pan.
- After 30 minutes, carefully turn the chicken so it is breast face up. When turning it, try not to puncture the skin. If the skin is not punctured, the chicken will “puff up” and create a gorgeous table presentation. As you can see in my photos, I did puncture the skin over the breast, so my chicken wasn’t puffy. Even though not puffy, ’twas still tasty!
- Cook for another 30 to 35 minutes. Turn the oven up to 400 degrees, and cook for an additional 20 minutes, or until it is done to your liking (I cooked for an additional 35 minutes). It takes about 20 to 25 minutes of cook time for each pound.
Be careful when you turn the chicken to not tear the skin, for the most attractive presentation. You’ll see that I failed to heed my own advice, and the picture-perfect chicken is not quite so as a result.
- For the prettiest presentation, place the chicken onto a platter and bring it to the table whole. Leave the lemons inside until the chicken is carved and opened. Spoon the juices from the chicken onto the slices.Carve, eat, and enjoy. Flavorful and juicy!
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