110g-4oz good butter, at room temperature
1.8kg-4lb free-range chicken
Salt and pepper
Several sprigs of thyme or tarragon, or a mixture of the two
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
Preheat the oven to 450 Fahrenheit/230 centigrade/Gas Mark 8. Smear the butter with your hands all over the bird. Put the chicken in a roasting tin that will accommodate it with room to spare. Season liberally with salt and pepper and squeeze over the juice of the lemon. Put the herbs and garlic inside the cavity, together with the squeezed out lemon halves this will add a fragrant lemony flavour to the finished dish. Roast the chicken in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Baste, then turn the oven temperature down to 375F/190C/Gas Mark 5 and roast for a further 30-45 minutes with further occasional basting. The bird should be golden brown all over with a crisp skin and have buttery, lemony juices of a nut-brown colour in the bottom of the tin. Turn the oven off, leaving the door ajar, and leave the chicken to rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.
This enables the flesh to relax gently, retaining the juices in the meat and ensuring easy, trouble-free carving and a moist bird. Carve the bird to suit yourself; I like to do it in the roasting tin. I see no point in making a gravy in that old-fashioned English way with the roasting fat, flour and vegetable cooking water. With this roasting method, what you end up with in the tin is an amalgamation of butter, lemon juice and chicken juices. That’s all. It is a perfect homogenisation of fats and liquids. All it needs is a light whisk or a stir, and you have the most wonderful ‘gravy’ imaginable. If you wish to add extra flavour, you can scoop the garlic and herbs out of the chicken cavity, stir them into the gravy and heat through; strain before serving. Another idea, popular with the Italians, is sometimes known as ‘wet-roasting’. Pour some white wine or a little chicken stock, or both, or even just water around the bottom of the tin at the beginning of cooking. This will produce more of a sauce and can be enriched further to produce altogether different results.
For example, you can add chopped tomatoes, diced bacon, cream, endless different herbs, mushrooms, spring vegetables, spices particularly saffron and ginger or anything else that you fancy.
For me, the simple roast bird is the best, but it is useful to know how much further you can go when roasting a chicken.