Roasting a whole chicken was something that always seemed like a daunting task to me. In my early twenties, I really didn't know much about cooking at all. I had a few go-to recipes that would rotate through the weekly schedule but I never really expanded out of my comfort zone. I didn't realize how much I loved cooking until I took a job as a nanny for a family that was, quite honestly, loaded.
Their house was something straight out of a Jane Austen novel- nestled in an eighteen acre lot with blooming apple trees and a moss-covered stone bridge arching over a bubbling brook. There was a lawn crew there every few days to mow and tend to the gardens, clean the pool and cut fresh flowers. The house keepers breezed through on a weekly schedule, mopping, vacuuming and dusting every corner of the 5,000 square foot house. The beds were stripped and remade, the dirty sheets washed, dried and folded. The home was run like an estate, which I suppose it was.
The lady of the house did not work- there was no need. She spent her days popping in and out of the house, making trips to Whole Foods and farmers markets, spending time on the phone planning her next luncheon or evening dinner party. She had impeccable style- to watch her from afar, you would guess she grew up in Paris, or Los Angeles. She was effortlessly chic, always in great shape and wearing heels most 40-something-mothers wouldn't dare try on.
She enjoyed cooking, that was very evident. She had dozens of cookbooks, and always shopped at local markets and specialty food stores. Her kitchen was gorgeous- a true chefs kitchen. Her knife collection was impressive, and now that I know how much a good knife costs, worth thousands of dollars. She spent a lot of time in the kitchen, I think it was probably her comfort zone, a place to unwind. At least that is how I feel about being in my kitchen now, so I can only assume. She was the first person to show me how to properly hold a knife. She showed me this as she was telling me that she attended the New York Culinary Institute “just for fun” after her daughter was born, so she could get out of the house and have a break. Back then, I smiled and nodded, not really knowing what the culinary institute was, but now- I am thoroughly jealous that she could have that experience in her down time.
While showing me how to properly cut lemons, she proceeded to take a whole chicken and run her fingers under the loose skin, shoving butter between the layers. I watched, intently, as she carefully slid paper thin slices of lemon between the chickens skin and breast. She then stuffed the cavity with the lemon wedges I had mangled, some whole cloves of garlic, thyme and rosemary. Lathering the entire chicken with soft butter and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, she then tied it all up with kitchen twine like a perfectly wrapped package. I was amazed at how effortless it looked.
That moment did it for me, I was determined to roast a lemon chicken like she had. I wanted to be as comfortable in the kitchen as she was. I wanted to confidently slice lemons and herbs like she did. Even more than that, I wanted to enjoy my life like she did. I didn't want to be a nanny, I wanted to cook, and do yoga, and wear high heels in the kitchen. And for a few moments, I thought that she had it all figured out.
I went home that night telling myself that her life was so out of reach for me. I told myself that being a nanny was where I was supposed to be, that taking care of children was my career. I convinced myself of this for five more years, until one day I decided to buy a whole chicken from a local farm. I adored every minute of baking that chicken- and suddenly my eyes opened again and my imagination ran. I could do this, maybe not the same way she did, but I could do it.
This chicken is still my very favorite way to bake a whole bird. It is juicy, tender, citrus-y, fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth yummy. And if you use the drippings to make a creamy little gravy to go with it- the caramelized lemons mixed with the juices in the roasting pan give the gravy a mouth watering zesty kick that is UH-mazing. Trust me, I was basically Mary Poppins for a decade- I don't lie. Often.
To sum up this super long post- I don't usually wear heels in the kitchen. I cook bare foot more often than not- and usually forget to even put on my apron. However, my previous employer- She Who Shall Not Be Named- taught me a lot about life. Enjoying life, loving your home, living your passion. Find beauty in every day, and know that it is totally attainable despite your circumstances. Pick some wildflowers, put them in a jar on your counter, bake a chicken, find your joie de vivre and live it.
• Lemon Roasted Chicken •
• one whole chicken, about 6 pounds
• three lemons
• six cloves of garlic
• 1/3 cup of butter, softened
• sea salt
• crushed black pepper
• kitchen twine
Preheat oven to 425 F.
Rinse the chicken under cool running water. Pat dry with paper towels.
Slice one lemon in half, and using a very sharp knife, slice one half of the lemon into thin rounds. Set rounds aside. Slice the rest of the lemons into wedges. Set aside.
Salt and pepper the cavity, inside the chicken. Stuff a few garlic cloves, about three or four lemon wedges, and a few springs of rosemary and thyme in the cavity.
Using your forefinger, gently run your finger under the layer of skin along the neck, separating the skin from the meat of the chicken, but being sure not to tear the skin. Once the skin is separated, slide a few of the thin lemon slices between skin and meat. I sometimes like to add a sprig of thyme under the skin as well.
Lather the entire chicken with the soft butter, making sure to get in-between leg and wing creases. Salt and pepper the outside of the chicken, and sprinkle some chopped rosemary and thyme as well.
Tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Place the chicken in a roasting pan, and add the rest of the lemon wedges, garlic, about 10 sprigs of rosemary and thyme to the pan.
Roast the chicken for about an hour and a half, or until the juices run clear when you pierce the skin. You can also use a meat thermometer. It should read 165F as an internal temperature when the chicken is done.
Listening to: La Vie en Rose by Edith Piaf