Once upon a time, before the days of factory farming and $5 rotisserie birds from Costco, chicken was considered a special meal. After years of treating this ubiquitous meat as a boring, must-offer dish, chefs now exalt the whole roasted chicken—buying special breeds and bathing the birds with luxe ingredients, like foie gras. Even without the expensive embellishments, a lovingly raised, thoughtfully cooked chicken is truly one of the best tasting things you can ever eat.
This Valentine’s Day (or any time you want to celebrate something), I’d like to propose you roast one of these birds. It’s true: To buy a best-quality pastured bird that was free to roam and scratch and eat a natural diet of bugs and more is expensive. But the $20 you’ll spend on one of these birds will seem like a deal compared to the price of other Valentine’s Day favorites, including rack of lamb, steak, and lobster. Not only will you likely have leftovers (handy when Valentine’s Day is mid-week), but there’s something so cozy about sharing a single bird and eating it partially with your hands. And did I mention? Roast chicken pairs beautifully with Champagne. And it’s one of the more sustainable meats you can eat.
One of my favorite ways to roast a bird involves salting it at least 24 hours in advance to season the meat down to the bone and to create golden, potato-chip-crisp skin. I rarely think far enough ahead to do this, and well, now that it’s Valentine’s Day, we don’t have enough time.
If I don’t salt the bird ahead, I’ve now discovered my second favorite method, and really, it rivals the first. While paging through Mindy Fox’s excellent book, The Perfectly Roasted Chicken, I found her Roast Chicken with Basil, Scallion, Lemon Butter, and Potatoes. In this recipe, she employs a few simple techniques to take a classic butter-roasted bird with potatoes to the next level. First, she adds lots of herbs, garlic, and scallions to the butter; it’s more than you think you should add. Second, she preheats the pan, so the potatoes and chicken start cooking right away. Third, she flips the chicken twice during roasting to help the bird cook evenly and to keep the breast juicy. Finally, she squeezes lemons over the chicken during the last 20 minutes of roasting, which helps brown the skin and add a fresh, lemony tang to the juices. The result is the roast chicken of my fantasies, complete with a luscious pan sauce and potatoes that make me feel bad for vegetarians. (Forget bacon. Potatoes coated in chicken drippings would be my “cheat” if I ever decided to give up meat.)
Happy Valentine’s Day!
- 1 (4-pound) whole chicken (buy the best one you can)
- 1 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 lemons
- 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
- Flaky coarse salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1½ pounds small to medium potatoes (about 1½ inches in diameter), cut lengthwise into quarters
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1½ cups packed fresh-leaf parsley leaves, stems trimmed to one inch
- Preheat the oven to 450°F with the rack in the middle. Pull off excess fa around the cavities and discard. From the edge of the cavity, slip a finger under the skin of each of the breasts and gently but thoroughly loosen the skin from the meat of the breasts and thighs.
- Put the basil and butter in a bowl. Finely zest the lemons into the bowl, holding the zester close so you can capture the flavorful oil that sprays from the lemons as you zest. Add the garlic and scallions and mix together.
- Using your hands and working with about 1 tablespoon of the butter at a time, push the mixture into the spaces you created between the chicken skin and meat, being careful not to tear the skin. As you work the mixture in, gently rub your hand over the outside of the skin to smooth out the butter and push it farther down between the skin and meat where you may have not been able to reach with your hand.
- Season the chicken all over, using 2 to 3 teaspoons salt and generous pepper, then tie the legs together with kitchen string. In a large bowl, toss the potatoes with oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and generous pepper to coat well. Cut 1 lemon lengthwise into quarters and set aside.
- Put a roasting pan (not nonstick) or 9x13-inch baking dish in the oven to heat for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and immediately put the potatoes and any oil left in the bowl into the pan, keeping them in as much of a single layer as possible, and push to the edges of the pan to make room for the chicken. Put the chicken into the pan, breast-side up. (It's fine if the bird sits on some of the potatoes.)
- Roast for 20 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven and turn the chicken breast-side down. Continue to roast for another 20 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven and turn the bird breast-side up again. Sprinkle the parsley over the potatoes then stir to coat with the pan drippings. Squeeze 3 lemon quarters over the chicken, and put the squeezed rinds into the roasting pan. Continue to roast until the juices of the chicken run clear when the thigh is pierced with a fork, 20 to 30 minutes more.
- Remove from the oven and let the chicken rest in the pan for 15 minutes, then transfer to a cutting board. Let rest for another 5 minutes, then carve. Spoon the pan juices over the chicken and serve with potatoes and roasted lemons.