A friend of mine calls roast chicken “a luxurious meal for one,” which may be why I make it so frequently when I am eating alone. It is also fabulously versatile: depending on the seasonings used, the humble roast chicken can be transformed to adapt to any meal. Even the most effete and exacting diners will happily eat a well-roasted chicken.
I have high standards for my roast chicken: the skin must be evenly browned on top and bottom and crisp, crackling, and well-seasoned, and the meat should be uniformly moist and juicy. In my opinion, few people know how to roast a chicken well. I’ve perfected my roast chicken method, which I am now generously sharing. (Lucky you!)
There are five essential aspects to this method: first, the chicken skin should be thoroughly dry, even if seasoned, before roasting. This helps crisp the skin. Second, the chicken must be at room temperature before it is roasted and the legs trussed close to the body so the meat cooks evenly. Third, I only put aromatics in the chicken cavity; I do not believe in stuffing birds the size of a chicken or smaller, unless the bird has been spatchcocked or tunnel-boned. This also helps ensure even roasting. Fourth, I roast my chicken in high heat without basting it, so the skin creates a seal allowing the juices to steam the meat within. Fifth (and this applies to any meat), I allow the chicken to rest for at least ten minutes before carving.
This particular roast chicken dish is rubbed inside and out with a blend of Moroccan spices and fresh herbs and stuffed with Moroccan preserved lemon. Yum!
1 roasting chicken (about four to five pounds), brought to room temperature
1 tablespoon sweet Spanish paprika
1 tablespoon ras-el-hanout (a Moroccan spice blend that usually contains over 30 spices; available in specialty shops)
1 teaspoon hot red chili flakes
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, cut into chunks
1 large or two small garlic cloves, peeled and cut into chunks
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, roughly chopped
1-2 teaspoons coarse salt, such as Maldon
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large or three small Moroccan preserved lemons (you can make these at home or buy them in jars; for this recipe I used jarred lemons)
A handful of fresh parsley
Preheat your oven to 220 degrees Celsius (or 425 degrees Fahrenheit).
Wash the chicken well inside and out, removing the gizzards and neck and reserving for another use, and remove and discard excess fat from around the chicken cavity. Dry the chicken thoroughly with paper towels (inside and out!) and set aside.
In a mortar and pestle, combine the paprika, ras-el-hanout, red chili flakes, fresh ginger, and garlic in a mortar and pound to a paste. (You can do this in a mini food processor, if you prefer, but I like to use a mortar and pestle because I feel you get more mileage from the natural garlic oils, plus it makes me feel butch.)
Add the olive oil to your spice paste and mix. It will be spicy! Cut one of your preserved lemons in half and rub on the chicken skin. This can later go inside the bird. Next, using your hands, rub the chicken all over, including inside the cavity, with the spice paste. If you are worried about the amount of heat you can use less spice paste, but the heat mellows during the roasting.
Stuff the cavity with the preserved lemons and parsley, fold the wingtips in and back so they are tucked securely against the bird, and truss the legs so they cross the cavity and are resting against the chicken. Sprinkle with thyme and season the skin, front and back, with the coarse salt (I don’t salt the cavity because the preserved lemons are quite salty), unless you are going to allow the chicken to marinate in the spices, as below. In this case, salt the chicken just before you put it in the oven. Transfer to a roasting pan with a rack. Alternatively, you can roast your chicken directly on your oven rack, placing a pan underneath to catch the juices.
I like to let the chicken rest with the spices for at least 20-30 minutes before roasting, if not longer (e.g., now is when I would preheat my oven). But I have no empirical proof that this makes a difference, just my gut instinct.
Roast at 220 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 200 degrees (about 390 degrees Fahrenheit) and roast for another 30 to 45 minutes, loosely covering the breast with foil if it appears to be getting too brown. Although 15 minutes per pound is a rough guide for poultry, I find that a four pound chicken takes 45-50 minutes using this method. I don’t temperature test; the chicken is done when, if you gently wiggle a leg, it moves easily in its socket. Remove the chicken from the oven, transfer to a plate, cover with foil and allow to rest for at least ten minutes. Serve.