Roast Chicken

I made a wrong turn somewhere.

Somehow in my life I have managed to know only a couple real sensualists, despite being an enthusiastic one myself. There have been moments in the last four years–many of them, and vivid–of walking into rooms full of people, all of them supposedly having fun, while a single sad mantra runs through my head, almost insane in its insistence: Where are my people? Where are they?

There is something more than joyless about this: you walk into a party, and find no one at home. I mean, there are people. Kind of. There are bodies, and some of them smell, and most of them are too drunk. There’s beer pong. The beer is warm and flat and tasteless and has bits of carpet fiber and crumbs of Cheetos floating in it. The music is loud and misguided. The whole thing is thoughtless–supposedly fun, but designed in no way to induce pleasure. For you, for the sensualist, who loves to drink well and eat well and laugh with good companions, it is worse than walking into an empty house. What you do is, you feel alone.  

Which brings us, as the form demands, to roast chicken. It’s not a cure for the alienation induced by hanging around too many of the wrong kind of people, but it is at least a respite, an escape. Because a good meal reminds us what time and care and the boot camp of life often tempt us to forget: that it is sometimes necessary for us to live in our bodies.

I know that this is true, and that the life of the mind depends on it. The body is the garden of the soul. I heard someone say that once, in a rare and potent moment of television. Most of the people I’ve met at the university possess passably good minds, but they have forgotten this, the truth of the body, or have never known it. So they are not my people, and I would never invite them over for a chicken dinner.

I’m not here to tell you what chicken to make. I made my own, a take on Thomas Keller’s simple, blazing-hot roast chicken. I can tell you that my recipe promises crackling, salty skin and the tenderest, juiciest breast meat you’ve ever tasted. But I can also vouch for Alice Waters’ slightly more involved recipe, and I’m sure every home cook worth her salt makes a supremely good roast chicken that’s better than everyone else’s. Point is, it doesn’t matter which roast chicken you choose to make, so long as it’s so good that you need to feed off it like a savage.

That’s my story. A take on a favorite theme: food as escape, pleasure as contact with the sublime. An old idea, and I know it is not an untroubled one. But for now, I am a sensualist, and sensualists live from escape to escape, from meal to meal. And I know, as well as I know anything, that it could be so much worse. I could look at this chicken and not get excited. That would be worse.

My Favorite Roast Chicken

On this chicken, the skin disappears first. Let it. Cold chicken skin makes lousy leftovers.

– 1 whole roasting chicken, 3 lbs.
– Lemon pepper
– Kosher salt
– Cracked black pepper


If you know you’re going to want this chicken in advance, it is best to salt the bird overnight. Combine 1/2 tbsp Kosher salt in a small bowl with some lemon pepper and carefully massage it into the breast and thigh meat, under the skin. If you are not confident that you will not break the skin, just massage the seasoning onto the surface of the bird. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and lemon pepper into the cavity of the bird. Truss the chicken, then place it in a small roasting dish or pan and store, covered, in refrigerator overnight.

A couple hours before you’re ready to eat, take the chicken out of the refrigerator. You want the bird to reach room temperature before you put it in the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel, then sprinkle another 3/4-1 tbsp of salt all over–breast, legs, back, thigh, wings. Do this from a distance of at least 8 inches to achieve an even coat. Season to taste with fresh cracked black pepper.

Place the chicken in the oven. If your oven’s heat source comes from below, as mine does, position the chicken on the lower rack. Roast for 35-40 minutes, until it is crackling and brown and the skin between the leg and the breast is taut and has separated from the meat. If you are unsure about the doneness, pierce the bird at the thigh. If the juice runs clear, the chicken is done.

Untrussing the bird is like unwrapping a present. But you have to wait. Let the bird sit, tented under foil, for ten minutes before you eat. This allows the juices to settle. Roast chicken is usually thought a formal kind of meal, but when I eat it, it is with my hands. Save your fork for your salad.

Slathering hot chicken meat in butter, as Thomas Keller suggests, will shorten your life by years, but in a nice way. So will drenching each bite in chicken fat and pan gravy, but also in a nice way. The wings, salty and fatty and crisp, are my favorite. And I will fight you for them. Best stay out of my way.

17 thoughts on “Roast Chicken

  1. Vivienne says:

    Hmm, nothing beats a good roast chicken…with butter and chicken fat!
    You’re such a good writer and agree with what you’re saying 😉

  2. Jenn@slim-shoppin says:

    Hi! Thanks for stopping by my blog !

    I love roasted chicken, when I was little, that was my specialty, however I would first melt a stick of butter in the roasting pan and frequently baste it with that. But it was so good!

    I love your pictures too!

  3. Kaitlin says:

    What a beautiful post. It’s a little sad, but very relatable. I know exactly how you feel and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

    I’ve been wanting to roast a chicken lately, too… I like that you put this into words because it helps me better understand how I feel.

    Thank you for that.

  4. Steve says:

    I do rotisserie chicken on the bbq a lot. Use pomegranite molasses, paprika, oo, and garlic salt. The skin comes out cripsy like yours. Great pics, btw.

  5. trisha says:

    i am so one of your people (sighhh).

    i actually gave a lesson in roasted chicken to a pack of young ‘uns last night. they are all out in their first home after college and don’t know how to cook.

    i filled the baking dish with a sliced sweet yellow onion + a whole head of garlic broken into cloves – skin on.

    i seared the bird on all sides in butter + oil, stuffed it with lemons and rosemary and popped it in the oven for 1 1/2 hours at 375.

    the pan juices were delectable – savory + a little sweet from the onions; the softened garlic popping from its skin.

    i shared how to carve + pick the chicken for soup.

    now my pupils can blaze forth – armed with the perfect meal for guests or just themselves and a stack of napkins.

  6. Patti says:

    All I can say is Wow! Your Roast chicken should be staple in everyone’s recipe file. Good job! Thanks for pegging the unkwown angst.

  7. Lilly Kline-Edens says:

    Great recipe and commentary. Roast chicken is definitely something to be relished and hedonistically enjoyed (the skin especially ;-> ). Contests on the expanded exposure, it iscertainly well deserved.

  8. Will says:

    Simple is always best. I loosen the skin and season the skin with plenty of kosher salt and pepper. The overnight in the refrigerator is a great step, but don’t cover it–the dry environment of the fridge will dry the skin out more, resulting in lovely crisp skin when it’s cooked.

    And I put about half a stick of butter (cut up) under the skin, and another half a stick on top, before roasting. Yum!

  9. Kathy Marcello says:

    Will, when you put the bird in the refrigerator overnight do you put the butter under the skin before you put in the refrig or before it goes in the oven?

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