Weeknight Cooking

Lemon and Onion Roasted Chicken

February 21, 2011

Lemon and Onion Roasted Chicken by Bevi

- Jenny

Sometimes when I am feeling particularly lonely for Los Angeles, I click on mapmyrun.com and trace my old running routes through the west side of the city. Clicking and dragging, I “run” around the Rancho Park golf course, through the sculpture garden at U.C.L.A., along the beach in Santa Monica.

This exercise can be comforting or it can be depressing, and with that I segue to roast chicken. Is not a chicken slathered with salt and olive oil the ultimate American memory dish? We are not talking comfort food, that’s a different genre. I am talking about food that reminds you of your various life stages, in and out of the kitchen, the dish through which many of us can trace our culinary development.

Roast chicken was the first thing I learned to make in an oven, if you don’t count American cheese slices melted on saltine crackers, which I used to make in 4th grade, after school, my house key still attached to a string of rawhide around my neck. Roast chicken was also the dish I used to order on occasional dates with Wall Street bankers while in college, because it was the cheapest entrée.

I have cooked chicken breast up and breast down; covered in butter or slathered with Crisco (thanks grandma); I have overcooked it to the point that it tasted like the farm dirt whence it came, and undercooked it so often my husband has accused me of trying to kill him for insurance money via his plate. I have been transported by roast chicken, and demoralized by it.

But there it is, the dish we all must master before moving on to greater things. Further, I have found roast chicken to be the ultimate weeknight protein, one that can be stretched via tacos, hash, soup and what have you.

I am sure than none of you really needs instructions on how to roast a chicken – so many before me have opined adequately on the topic, and in truth a bit of salt and oil and watching for overcooking will get the job done. But I found Bevi's Lemon and Onion Roasted Chicken to be something rather special, both because of the onion-slices-under-the-skin technique, which I had never tried, and because it forced me to consider the parsnip, a root vegetable I have generally chosen to ignore.

The way I made this dish work on a Monday was to assemble the whole thing in my casserole dish and leave it in the fridge for the day while at work. I called my sitter an hour before I left and asked her to pull the bird out for 30 minutes then tuck it into the oven, so that I would come home to a aromatic house. (I would also arrive to a floor covered with small wet paw prints and an overflowing compost bowl, but these are the trade offs of domestic life.)

The added value here, as I alluded to earlier, are the slices of onions under the skin, which you should slide in carefully to avoid rips. You will see that Bevi instructs you to choose any 2 out of the 4 vegetable selections and put them in the pan. I did not really understand this; was she saying skip the other ones, or use them later, and in which case when? Nevermind. I did not use the potatoes, because potatoes make me hostile, but I used more carrots and parsnips than she suggested, because I like a little extra. Roasted parsnips are now my new favorite thing – can I get an amen?

What we have here is a highly flavorful bird, with some really nice tasting roasted vegetables, a hearty one dish meal that is fit for any city. At any time of life.

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Lemon and Onion Roasted Chicken

By Bevi

Serves 4 portions
  • 3 large carrots, peeled
  • 3 parsnips, peeled
  • 1 fennel bulb, quartered
  • 2 handfuls fingerling potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • One 4- to 5-pound roasting chicken
  • 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 2 sprigs thyme or rosemary
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 lemon
  • 6 to 8 sage leaves

    1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

    1. Choose any 2 out of the 4 vegetable selections. Cover the bottom of a 9" x 13" glass baking dish or roasting pan with the vegetables. Sprinkle 1 Teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and a tablespoon of olive oil over the vegetables. Use your hands to smear the vegetables thoroughly with the salt, pepper and oil.

    1. Thoroughly wash the chicken, and pat dry. Salt and pepper the chicken cavity, and throw in the garlic cloves and either rosemary or thyme as well. Place the chicken breast side up on top of the vegetables in the baking dish.

    1. Peel the onion and slice crosswise, keeping the onion slices intact, and making each slice about 1/4" to 1/3" wide. Basically you will have about 8 onion "plates" of various sizes.

    1. Run your hand under the breast skin, releasing the skin from the meat. Run your fingers under the legs as well to separate the skin from the meat.

    1. Take the larger onion segments and place them under the skin, 2 segments per side of the breast. Take the smaller onion segments and place them under the leg skin. Any remaining, loose onion slices can be thrown into the cavity.

    1. Slide 6 or 8 sage leaves under the skin, and you can place them on top of the onion slices. Conversely, you can place a sage leaf on each onion segment as you slide the onions under the skin.

    1. Cut the lemon in half, and squeeze the juice all over the chicken, working the lemon into the skin with your hands. Thrown the lemon halves into the cavity.

    1. Rub the remaining olive oil all over the chicken. Sprinkle the remaining salt and pepper over the bird.

    1. Place the bird in the middle of the oven. Baste the bird occasionally with the pan juices that accumulate. The chicken will be done in 80 to 90 minutes. Test the bird for doneness by wriggling the leg, and if the leg comes out of the joint easily the chicken is done.

    1. Let the chicken rest about 10 minutes before carving. To serve, place the chicken on a serving platter, surrounded by the roasted vegetables. Serve the jus on the side.

  1. With the leftover chicken, I like to make a nice curry. Then I remove the lemons and herbs from what is left of the carcass and make chicken stock. Generally we get 2 days of roast chicken for two people, 2 days of chicken curry, and then stock to boot!

By day, Jennifer Steinhauer, aka Jenny, covers Congress for The New York Times. By night, she is an obsessive cook.

Jennifer Steinhauer

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Teri March 17, 2011
I call Sunday a success if I can roast a chicken to have meals throughout the week. I slip my sliced onions under the entire chicken, having been lucky enough to inherit a proper roasting pan from my sister but still too cheap after all these years to buy a roasting rack. The onions, two to three sliced in centimeter-wide chunks, work just fine. And by Thursday or so, the onions go straight with the carcass into the pot for stock. Can't wait to try the sage this weekend!
Bevi March 17, 2011
I am with you on that meal plan, Teri. With two of us we can eke out 4 meals directly from the chicken one way or another - curry, chicken pot pie, or a stew - and then the carcass goes directly into the stock pot to make chicken soup or stock to freeze. It's a great meal staple in our house.
For company I often roast 2 or 3 birds at once.
ashleyamore March 15, 2011
I've been eating this for three days now, and if I have to continue, so be it. I adore this recipe. I added extra lemons to the pan because they're tasty after being cooked. After the initial roast (with carrots and parsnips), on day two I added roasted green beans, new potatoes, and a dijon vinaigrette to the jus. Oh, my! Although I had prepared Shrimp Saganaki for my family to eat tonight, expecting an uproar over roast chicken for the third night in a row, when I came home, the chicken was cooling in its covered casserole and the Saganaki was tightly covered in the refrigerator, for another night, I guess. :) Thanks for this delicious recipe!
Bevi March 16, 2011
Ashleyamore - I have been traveling for 2 weeks now and I cannot wait to get back home so I can make this chicken. Extra lemons sounds like a must! So glad you liked the recipe.
mcs3000 February 23, 2011
Roast chicken is one of my favorite meals. Usually make Ina's, loading the roasting pan w/veggies. Made yours. The onion-slices-under-the-skin technique is wonderous - thank you and @bevi. Parsnips are grand (alas, didn't have any tonite). Have you made parsnip fries? Toss in evo, s+p and bake - awesome.
Jestei February 23, 2011
i will do that immediately. it sounds great. and thanks for trying bevi's recipe!
Sagegreen February 22, 2011
Thanks for featuring this Jenny. I always manage to butcher chicken well, when I most need the comfort, so recipes like this are lifesavers! Love the parsnip. And I will check out your running route, esp. the sculpture garden, when I go to LA this April for a conference, a city I really look forward to exploring. Hard to imagine a place without dirty snow banks right about now.
Jestei February 22, 2011
yes dirty snow banks are my métier. i hope you like this recipe!
drbabs February 22, 2011
Thanks for the inspiration, Jenny. There's a little organic farm nearby that raises its own chickens. I just may have to stop by there today.
Jestei February 22, 2011
i bet that will make your dish delicious!
Bevi February 21, 2011
I'm so glad you liked the roast chicken, Jenny! Since submitting this recipe, I have learned to loosen up and fill the roasting pan with all sorts of vegetables - all of the above listed all together, as well as peeled sweet potatoes, quartered sweet onions, and Cipollini. Roasting two birds at once in a much larger roasting pan has been successful too.

Roasted parsnips are a revelation, I agree.
Jestei February 22, 2011
onions would be a great addition. i will try it that way too.
Robin O. February 21, 2011
I love a roast chicken anytime! Please tell me about the leftover curry dish. I always have leftovers.
Bevi February 21, 2011
The curry that I love the best is Jane Brody's Quick Curried Chicken, because it is so easy and it produces a creamy sauce. I would describe the curry as relatively mild.

-Tear chicken off the bird.
-Finely chop a medium onion, 2 stalks of celery, and a clove of garlic and saute in a bit of olive oil in a large pan for 5 minutes.
-Add 2 TLS. curry powder. Mix thoroughly.
-Chop a Granny Smith apple, and dice a ripe banana. Throw into the onions along with a bay leaf. Cook for another 5 minutes.
-Add 2 tsps of tomato paste, and 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock or broth.
-Bring the sauce to a boil, cover, and simmer until the apples are completely soft. Let sauce cool slightly.
-Take out the bay leaf, and puree the sauce in a blender or food processor. If you like to have a few particulates in the sauce, do not blend all of it.
-Add the chicken pieces, and reheat.
-I like to add cashews or toasted almond slivers and either raisins or currants as well.


Robin O. February 22, 2011
Thanks Bevi, the curry sounds delicious.
Jestei February 22, 2011
i would go to any food52 recipe that calls for chicken and curry and go nuts. paul joseph always has a good collection of recipes for everything.
wanderash February 21, 2011
Amen! They are divine whipped as well. Welcome to the parsnip fan club!
Jestei February 22, 2011
who knew?? well lots of people. just not me!
Midge February 21, 2011
Love roasted parsnips! It's tough to beat running on the beach in Santa Monica, but one of my favorite runs in DC was on the Crescent trail starting in Georgetown. But you probably found your way there by now.
Jestei February 22, 2011
that in fact is my new home run. i start at river road (mile 5 on the trail) and run toward gtown.
BiCoastalCook February 21, 2011
Sorry, Jenny, I vote for the potatoes instead of the parsnips, but otherwise this is a fine way to roast a chicken. When I had a Meyer lemon tree in the garden, I used to put very thin Meyer lemon slices under the roaster's skin and then I'd tuck another lemon into the cavity, after poking holes all over it with a fork, along with some garlic and thyme. A bed of chopped onion under the chicken, olive oil all over the exterior, and into the oven - and you are so right about how good the house starts to smell. (PS - I hear you about the Crisco. My grandmother used to make mandelbrot - what Italian grandmothers might have called biscotti - with Crisco so that we could eat them with milk or meat meals. It wasn't until I made it to France at age 30 that I discovered how those cardboard objects were supposed to taste...)
Jestei February 22, 2011
meyer onions are so great with chicken, i agree!