5 Ingredients or Fewer

Melissa Clark's Feta-Brined Roast Chicken

April 12, 2017
17 Ratings
Photo by Mark Weinberg
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

There are many of us—most famously Julia Child—who would call a simply roasted chicken a perfect food, one that’s hard to imagine improving upon.
But while sometimes you want the simply-seasoned perfect sort of bird like Julia did, sometimes instead you want an herb-crusted, crackly-skinned, salty-briny-juicy pop in the mouth perfect sort of bird. This is the latter. Adapted slightly from the New York Times (January 28, 2015). —Genius Recipes

What You'll Need
  • 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • one 3 1/2- to 4-pound whole chicken
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons dried Greek oregano
  • 2 large lemons
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more as needed
  • 1 large bunch arugula or other sturdy salad greens, for serving
  1. The day before serving, combine 2 ounces feta, 2 teaspoons salt, and 4 cups water in a blender and blend until smooth. Put chicken in an extra-large resealable plastic bag or a container large enough to submerge chicken, and cover with the feta brine. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.
  2. Before cooking, remove chicken from brine and transfer to a paper towel-lined tray. (Discard brine.) Pat chicken dry with paper towels and allow to come to room temperature for 1 hour.
  3. In a small mixing bowl, combine remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, the pepper, the oregano, and the zest of the lemons (about 1 tablespoon). Liberally cover chicken in herb mix and gently massage entire bird. Halve lemons and place 3 halves in cavity (save remaining half for serving). Using kitchen twine, tie legs together.
  4. Heat oven to 450 degrees F. Place a large ovenproof skillet over high heat. Add oil and heat until it just smokes. Place chicken, breast-side up, in pan. Transfer entire pan to oven. Cook, basting once or twice, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the fleshy part of the thigh reads 165 degrees F and the juices run clear when chicken is pierced with a knife, 50 to 60 minutes.
  5. Remove pan from oven, then stir remaining crumbled feta into juices in pan and stir well. Let chicken rest for 10 minutes in the pan before carving and serving on a bed of greens, with feta-laced pan juices on top, drizzled with a little lemon juice from the reserved lemon half.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Ellen Daniel Williamson
    Ellen Daniel Williamson
  • Chris Van Houten
    Chris Van Houten
  • Gabrielle
  • MorriB
  • Fran McGinty
    Fran McGinty
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

28 Reviews

Ellen D. July 10, 2023
Discovered this a few years ago and it’s among my family’s favorites. I make a few modifications. First, I spatchcock the chicken. Second, I roast it over some root veggies: Yukon gold potatoes, carrots, parsnips, radishes, etc. The veggies get to cook in the chicken drippings and go well with the arugula and feta. Also, I buy a pack of feta packed in water and use that water in the brine. Finally, it’s so good one chicken isn’t enough so as we eat the first one and the veggies that roasted under it the second is in the oven ensuring yummy leftovers the next night. On a summer night it goes brilliantly with a watermelon, feta, and mint salad.
Deborah A. October 26, 2021
After perusing this recipe, my first thought was that this would benefit from the addition of garlic. I'm going to tinker with this a bit; will let you know how it turns out.
Pam O. September 21, 2020
This is fabulous. I happened to have some feta brine, though not nearly enough, but had seen Melissa Clark’s comment that any brine would do. I knew I’d been saving that empty pickle jar of brine for some reason! I had a roasting chicken of nearly 6 lbs. so I managed to pull together about 4 1/2 cups of brine (including Kalamata olive). Also because the chicken was so big it split the ziplock bag. Late at night, I was about to use a 2-gallon ziplock which I was afraid would be too large but scanned my kitchen and spotted my 4-quart Dutch oven left out because I couldn’t fit it in the dishwasher and had left it for the next load. I had only used it for corn, so why not? 😉 The chicken fit perfectly snugly and was covered with the brine. I turned it over in the morning just to be sure. I had one oversight because I was busy making a side dish (try Melissa’s curried chickpeas with eggplant in “Dinner”) and neglected to add the olive oil to the pan before putting it in the oven. Discovered this about 15 minutes later and added the oil then. It didn’t seem to harm anything as the chicken came out perfectly cooked an hour later (despite the large size), was incredibly juicy and with crispy skin. Most roast chicken recipes promise crispy skin but rarely deliver. My husband, usually critical of roasted chicken recipes, raved over this. He thought the sauce should be bottled because it would make any chicken delicious, with or without crispy skin. I had a very nice feta from Vermont so it melted right into the drippings. The only slight complaint would be if you’re serving this to company the sauce kind of separates, possibly made worse by my addition of the chicken juices after carving. Overall for us, this may be the only roast chicken I ever make again!
Chris V. April 29, 2020
Just made this and I'm very, very happy with this recipe! It is so simple to make- barely any active time spent preparing it, and the beautiful pop of acidity from the lemons and feta makes this a special roast chicken. I followed the recipe almost exactly as is, but used grapeseed oil instead of olive oil because I didn't trust olive oil at that high of a temp. Thank you for sharing!
mindy M. October 6, 2019
This was a great recipe, although I need to tweak it a bit. First, 50 min @450 was too long for my bird, which was about 4 lbs or so. The white meat was a tad dry for my taste.

While the feta never completely dissolved in the drippings despite whisking for a while, I was fine with the lumpy texture. That said the amount of gravy produced was very minimal..,perhaps it was not a fatty chicken.,,plus I did not use an excessive amount of olive oil for fear of creating an oily mess in my oven. I added leftover stock to extend the gravy.

Finally, I used spinach as my greens but found they did not significantly wilt once the gravy was ladled onto the plate alongside the portion of chicken. Next time I might use arugula or blanch the spinach first,

The chicken skin was nice and crispy and the feta sauce and brine enhanced this chicken, elevating it beyond ordinary roast chicken.

On a final note, my fave roast chicken has always been Thomas Keller’s. His recipe is to roast at 450 until done. I recall some folks questioning the use of a Hugh temp for the entire roasting time.

cass April 8, 2019
Hands down the best roast chicken ever. However at the 450 temp my oven became a greasy mess. Can the chicken be covered or the temp lowered. Hate to clean the oven every time I make it
K G. March 21, 2019
This brine was amazing! I just used 2 chicken breasts and marinated over night. Cooked it in the oven for an hour at 350 (with the brine) and then finished on the stove to boil it all into the chicken. Not too salty and delicious. Served it over a greek salad.
brushjl March 12, 2019
Am not a fan of roasting chickens at high temperatures. It never seems to turn out. I'd much rather do 350 for longer. My feta brine didn't do much, waste of good feta. The seasoning and lemon was ok. Probably won't make this again.
karencooks April 16, 2018
Delicious and juicy chicken! 50 minutes at 450 was perfect!!!
ghainskom March 5, 2018
This was meat-falling-off-the-bone-melting-in-your-mouth delicious. This is now sharing place one of my roast chicken recipes with TasteFood's Roasted Butterflied Chicken with Cardamom and Yogurt. So thank you!
Gabrielle May 24, 2017
MorriB May 13, 2017
I've made this twice now - once with a whole chicken and once with leg quarters. While the longer brining time is great it is still amazing with only 4-5 hours in the brine.
Fran M. May 9, 2017
I just made this chicken. I'm having trouble getting the feta to blend into the sauce.
Any ideas.
Deborah A. October 26, 2021
Use a hand held immersion blender - easy- peas.
Jane April 30, 2017
This was incredibly good, the best roast chicken I've had. Everyone, even family members who weren't particularly fond of chicken, loved it. The drippings on the arugula were divine. Clean freak that I am, my only issue was that it made a huge mess in my oven. Still, it was worth the effort. Next time I will try roasting it in my Kamado Joe.
Karen M. September 22, 2017
What about preheating the cast iron pan on a barbecue instead of your oven. That should probably work I think.
If you have at least a 3 burner BBQ you could use indirect heat as well. Get the pan smoking hot on the barbecue and then just put the chicken in it. I wonder if that would work?

I've heard of this method being used for fish fillets.
Jane June 9, 2019
Update: Since my first post, I have made this twice with 2 whole chickens each time on my Kamado Joe (egg-type) grill at 450 degrees using indirect heat. I used a disposable aluminum roasting pan (about 20" x 12" x 3") to avoid crowding the 2 birds. It tasted just as good as the oven version but took longer because there were 2 chickens. The recipe remains a favorite for an easy dinner that serves a crowd.
Chef T. April 26, 2017
I've made this recipe several times, and it's hands down the best roast chicken I've ever had.
DaveS April 21, 2017
Wait - you don't reduce the temperature from 450? And cook the chicken for an hour?
chris June 12, 2017
I was thinking the same thing. I think I'd test the thigh temperature at 40 minutes, if I left the oven at 450. And, cover the breast with lemon slices to protect it a bit.
Ron S. July 1, 2017
Yes........also I start roasting the chicken on one side.....20 mins, flip to other side...20 place on back, breast up.. .20 minutes. 175 in the thigh is done............
Karen M. September 22, 2017
That does seem like an awfully high temperature. When I do chickens I start them at 400-450 whatever but then after the chicken goes in the oven I zoom it right down to 350 or 325 I think the breast meat would dry out if it were exposed to direct heat at 450 wouldn't it?
Natalia W. April 14, 2017
Just use the brine that the feta comes in!
Starr R. April 17, 2017
I was going to ask why that wasn't the way the recipe was listed. Did you do it? Does it need extra salt in the brine?
Shalini April 19, 2017
Although I haven't made this yet, I think the feta cheese is integral to the brine the chicken is soaked in. You blend the feta with water, not just use the water the cheese has been soaking in. As for extra salt, nope.
Elizabeth L. April 21, 2017
The original recipe this is based on uses the brine. But most of us don't have 4 cups of feta brine lying around.
Starr R. April 21, 2017
that makes sense - I will use the brine and add water as necessary.
Karen M. September 22, 2017
It can be easy to over salt to oversalt a brine I've noticed