Legendary cookbook author Marcella Hazan passed away on September 29, 2013. On a recent episode of my podcast, Cook Bliss, I chatted with three women whose lives were touched by Marcella. One guest, cookbook publicist, Carrie Bachman, shared a few of her favorite “Marcella recipes”. One really grabbed me: Roast Chicken with Lemons.
Carrie said that the recipe included chicken, salt, pepper, and lemons. That’s it! You don’t even need to use olive oil.
I needed to make this chicken.
Here’s how it went. (Spoiler alert: By the end, you’ll want to make this chicken too!)
See how the recipe states, “2 rather small lemons.” Yeah….I kind of missed “rather small” part when I went shopping, as you’ll see in a second!
Wash the chicken. Yes, I know that washing chicken is no longer recommended. But for this, I wanted to fully follow the recipe. (And then, like a maniac, I scrubbed down everything afterward.) So feel free to skip this step. In fact, it’s probably better if you do.
Marcella tells us to place the bird on a titled plate to drain. My plates don’t really have a ridge. So I used a cutting board with a reservoir and stuck a wooden spoon under it to angle the board.
After ten minutes, I dried it.
And pepper, inside and out.
Now, the lemons.
Poke ’em (through with a skewer.) You want about 20 pokes. My lemons were so juicy that when I pierced the skin, juice flew out of them!
And this is where I ran into trouble. My lemons were big. One lemon filled the cavity. There was no way two lemons were going inside of this 4.5 pound chicken. No way. Now I was making Roast Chicken with One Lemon. Oh well.
Then, use two sturdy toothpicks or wooden skewers and close up the cavity. I have to say, this was way harder to do than I thought. That chicken skin was tough. Really tough.
Marcella advises not to close the cavity too tight or ” the chicken may burst”. Let me repeat that: “the chicken may burst”. I think this is the first time I’ve followed a recipe that included a note on dinner exploding. I LOVE IT! Danger.
Then lightly tie the legs together with kitchen twine. (Does this remind anyone else of that moment in “Bridget Jones’ Diary” where Bridget uses blue ribbon to tie vegetables together for her soup and then the soup turns blue? Lesson I: don’t use blue twine here. Lesson II: Bridget Jones is amazeballs.)
And then, Marcella has us turn the chicken upside down! Yup! For the first 30 minutes, you roast the chicken breast-side down.
After 30 minutes, you take it out of the oven and turn it. Fun! (Really, it’s pretty easy. A pair of kitchen tongs makes this a snap.)
Hee. I just flipped the bird.
During the final 20 minutes of roasting, you increase the oven temperature to 400°F. This gives the chicken a nice golden color. I must say, this step surprised me. I’ve roasted chicken where you start in a hot oven and then decrease but not the other way around.
After following the recipe, you’re rewarded with an incredibly moist chicken with a pleasant lemon flavor. This recipe is a total keeper! And I would not have expected anything less from the late Marcella Hazan.
Marcella Hazan's Roast Chicken With Lemons
- 3- to 4 pound chicken
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 small lemons
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Wash the chicken thoroughly in cold water, both inside and out. Remove all the bits of fat hanging loose. Let the bird sit for about 10 minutes on a slightly tilted plate to let all the water drain out of it. Pat it thoroughly dry all over with cloth or paper towels.
- Sprinkle a generous amount of salt and black pepper on the chicken, rubbing it with your fingers over all its body and into its cavity.
- Wash the lemons in cold water and dry them with a towel. Soften each lemon by placing it on a counter and rolling it back and forth as you put firm downward pressure on it with the palm of your hand. Puncture the lemons in at least 20 places each, using a sturdy round toothpick, a trussing needle, a sharp-pointed fork, or similar implement.
- Place both lemons in the bird's cavity. Close up the opening with toothpicks or with trussing needle and string. Close it well, but don't make an absolutely airtight job of it because the chicken may burst. Run kitchen string from one leg to the other, tying it at both knuckle ends. Leave the legs in their natural position without pulling them tight. If the skin is unbroken, the chicken will puff up as it cooks, and the string serves only to keep the thighs from spreading apart and splitting the skin.
- Put the chicken into a roasting pan, breast facing down. Do not add cooking fat of any kind. This bird is self-basting, so you need not fear it will stick to the pan. Place it in the upper third of the preheated oven. After 30 minutes, turn the chicken over to have the breast face up. When turning it, try not to puncture the skin. If kept intact, the chicken will swell like a balloon, which makes for an arresting presentation at the table later. Do not worry too much about it, however, because even if it fails to swell, the flavor will not be affected.
- Cook for another 30 to 35 minutes, then turn the oven thermostat up to 400 degrees, and cook for an additional 20 minutes. Calculate between 20 and 25 minutes total cooking time for each pound. There is no need to turn the chicken again.
- Whether your bird has puffed up or not, bring it to the table whole and leave the lemons inside until it is carved and opened. The juices that run out are perfectly delicious. Be sure to spoon them over the chicken slices. The lemons will have shriveled up, but they still contain some juice; do not squeeze them, they may squirt.
- Ahead-of-time note:
- If you want to eat it while it is warm, plan to have it the moment it comes out of the oven. If there are leftovers, they will be very tasty cold, kept moist with some of the cooking juices and eaten not straight out of the refrigerator, but at room temperature.