5 Ingredients or Fewer

Lemoniest Roast Chicken

January 20, 2020
3 Ratings
  • Prep time 48 hours
  • Cook time 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

There’s lemony roast chicken and then there’s the lemoniest roast chicken. For this Big Little Recipe, we’ll use lemons not one, not two, not three, but four different ways. Here’s how: First, a lemon-zested dry brine, which not only makes the meat more tender and moist when you roast it, but more brightly flavorful, too. (This step takes a day or two in the fridge, so make sure you plan in advance. Try starting it on a sleepy Saturday morning, then reward yourself with a proper Sunday supper.) Second, a lemon-zested butter to rub all over the bird before it goes in the oven. Third, lemon halves: One of these goes right in the cavity, where it leisurely steams. The rest go in the skillet, where they char and caramelize. (As noted below, you can pull these before the chicken if they seem to be coloring too fast.) The fourth and final way is arguably the most fun: the “gravy.” In quotes because it’s halfway between a pan sauce and salad dressing—full of golden, schmaltzy richness, with the ease of shaking up a basic vinaigrette. Now, all of that said, do find organic lemons if you can, since we’re using every part. When it comes to serving, the world is your chicken. I like a pared-down, crunchy green salad, plus something starchy to soak up all the lemony sauce (say, a crusty baguette, boiled new potatoes, fluffy couscous, or cheesy polenta). Cold white wine is very good, too, but you knew that already. —Emma Laperruque

What You'll Need
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Lemoniest Roast Chicken
  • Lemony brine for chicken
  • 4 to 5 teaspoons kosher salt (corresponding to chicken weight, below)
  • 1 tablespoon Microplaned (or finely grated) lemon zest
  • 1 (4- to 5-pound) chicken, giblets and neck removed (or frozen for later)
  • Lemony pan fixings and gravy
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at a cool room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons Microplaned (or finely grated) lemon zest
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 lemons, halved
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, adjusted to taste
  1. Brine the chicken: Combine the salt and lemon in a small bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the salt is lemony yellow and super fragrant. Massage this lemon salt all over the chicken (sprinkle a bit inside the empty cavity, too). Stick on a wire rack set over a sheet pan (or in a large bowl or baking dish) and stick in the fridge, uncovered, for at least 1 day or up to 2. (You can truss the chicken if you want, or not.)
  2. When you’re ready to roast the chicken, remove it from the fridge, and heat the oven to 425°F. Pat the chicken all over with towels until it’s totally dry.
  3. Add the butter and lemon zest to a small bowl and mix together until combined. Use a pastry brush or your hands to rub the lemon butter all over the chicken, then evenly season with salt and black pepper (you can go pretty light on the salt since it’s already dry-brined).
  4. Transfer the chicken to a baking dish of your choice (I like a large cast-iron skillet). Stick one lemon half in the chicken’s cavity, then place the remaining halves, cut side-down, in the pan around the chicken. Roast for 65 to 75 minutes, or until the juices run clear when you cut between the thigh and leg.
  5. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the chicken and charred lemons to a cutting board with a deep juice groove (you can discard the lemon half inside the chicken). While that rests, pour the pan juices into a measuring cup or gravy boat, making sure to get all those crispy, golden bits stuck to the bottom of the pan (they’re ultra-concentrated in flavor). Squeeze in a few drops of juice from one of the charred lemon halves on the cutting board, then add the 3 tablespoons lemon juice, and stir with a fork or tiny whisk. By now, some chickeny broth has probably accumulated on the cutting board—pour all of that in (for me, this was about ¼ cup). Stir again and give it a taste. More fresh lemon juice, more charred lemon juice, both? Adjust the fat, acid, salt, and pepper until it’s good enough to drink by the spoonful.
  6. Carve the chicken and serve with the charred lemons alongside and lemony gravy for pouring and dunking.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • IWearTheHat
  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
  • Jacque
  • Lucia
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

9 Reviews

Jacque November 28, 2020
Should the chicken be covered while it’s brining? Seems like it would dry out in a day or two.
IWearTheHat May 15, 2021
The instructions do say to leave it uncovered. I haven't seen anyone say they did anything different.
Lucia February 27, 2020
It's a good sign when you're three picky children, aged 5, 5 and 3 walk into the house and immediately ask "MMM. What's that delicious smell?"! My whole family enjoyed it.
Jenny February 10, 2020
It's true that this is lemony, but that is hardly the story I would tell because this was just the best roast chicken I have ever made. I brined my chicken for two days, roasted for 65 minutes, and it was moist and juicy. The sauce made from the pan drippings and lemon juice was insanely delicious. This will be my go-to in the future.
Emma L. February 10, 2020
Thank you, Jenny! So glad you enjoyed the recipe.
pamela January 26, 2020
oh you missed the standby chix n lemon trick: squeeze the juice between the meat and the skin!
Emma L. February 10, 2020
Ooh! I actually haven't crossed paths with this trick before—will have to try it soon.
pamela February 10, 2020
it does magical things to the chicken meat!
Ruby M. February 27, 2020
Hi! Sorry, can you elaborate on this trick? Do you mean adding lemon juice between the meat and skin before the brine?

Also, when massaging the salt brine on the chicken, does the lemon zest/salt mix go under the skin, or over the skin?