Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” has been sitting on my nightstand for almost twenty years. For me, it has been inspired reading. I return to it over and over again as a source of inspiration and enjoyment. Forget about all of those other knock-off Authentic Italian Cuisine cookbooks that provide recipes for Chicken Parm and Sunday Gravy. Marcella Hazan’s collected works (vols. 1 and 2) are the definitive source of information about simple Italian cooking. They (She) belong on the same shelf (pedestal) as Larousse, Escoffier, Beard, and Child.
One recipe has intrigued me since the time my now well-thumbed copy was first opened. Roast Chicken with Lemons piqued my interest back then and remained a question mark in my mind for years to come. How can such a simple recipe yield palatable results? It just seemed too rudimentary, even for a volume of work whose basic premise encourages simple cuisine and easy preparations.
Any astute fan of the culinary arts knows that much ado has been made about the perfect roast Chicken. Some say it is the criteria that define a great chef. Others say true perfection can only be achieved after years of practice and many failed attempts. Either way, jamming two lemons into a Chicken’s rear-end and sticking it in the oven defies all conventional wisdom. This is why I had to try this recipe.
The list of ingredient consists of one whole Chicken, Two small lemons, Salt and Pepper. That’s it. No extra fat, no herbs, nothing. Mark Bittman would be proud.
Toothpicks or a trussing needle and butcher twine are used to join the skin that surrounds both neck and tail cavities. This traps the moisture given off by the Lemons as they cook and braises the bird from the inside. Steam from the collected juices causes the skin of the bird to puff up.
The skin, being separated from the meat of the Chicken and exposed to external heat, becomes very brown and crispy. The meat remains moist and practically falls off the bone. A delicate citron perfume remains to tease the palate.
There is a reason why true masters should be revered. They have the unique ability to take what others find so difficult, and make it look so easy.
Please Note: The following is not Marcella Hazan’s exact recipe but it will yield comparable results.
- One 3-4 Lb Chicken
- Two small Lemons
- Kosher Salt
- Black Pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Remove chicken from package and any giblets that might be tucked inside the cavity. Trim away excessive fat deposits by the tail bone and any remaining viscera that may be inside the cavity.
Thoroughly rinse Chicken under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle salt and ground black pepper inside the bird’s cavity and then apply a liberal coating to the entire exterior of the bird. Rub the skin with your fingers to evenly distribute the seasonings.
Wash lemons under cold water. Soften them by rolling each one on a flat surface while applying downward pressure from your hand or heating them in a microwave oven for 30 to 60 seconds on medium heat. Pierce their skin about 20 times all over with a sharp implement such as the tines of a fork, trussing needle, or small knife.
Insert both lemons inside the cavity of the chicken.
Close the neck and tail openings by joining the skin on each side and secure it with either toothpicks or a trussing needle and thread.
Note: The intention is to close both openings tight enough to retain moisture as the chicken cooks but not so tight that steam can’t escape. Leave a little opening on both sides to allow steam to vent. This will prevent the bird from splitting open during the cooking process.
Tie the Chicken’s legs together with butcher’s twine. They should remain in their natural position once secured. Do not pull the legs together by tightening twine. The bird will puff up while it cooks. The twine prevents the legs from spreading apart and tearing the skin.
Place the bid breast side down in a roasting pan. Do not add any additional fat. The fat rendered from the bird will prevent the skin from sticking to the pan. Place the bird into the oven and roast for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes have passed, remove pan from oven. Turn the bird so the breast is facing up. Return bird to the oven and continue roasting for another 30 minutes.
Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Continue roasting until a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees when inserted into the breast and 180 degrees when inserted into the thigh (about 20-25 minutes per pound).
When the internal temperatures are reached, remove bird from oven. Allow it to rest for about 15 minutes before carving.