Simplest Whole Roast Chicken, Six Ways

Makes 4 servings
Time: About 1 hour

We justifiably associate roast chicken with elegance, but it can also be super weeknight food, cooked in just about an hour. This method works because the high heat provided by the heated skillet cooks the thighs faster than the breasts, which are exposed only to the heat of the oven. It gives you nice browning without drying out the breast meat, and it's easily varied. If at any point during the cooking the pan juices begin to smoke, just add a little water or wine (white or red, your choice) to the pan. This will reduce browning, however, so don't do it unless you must. I suggest serving the pan juices with the chicken (you can call it sauce naturel if you like).

1 whole chicken, 3 to 4 pounds, trimmed of excess fat

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

A few sprigs fresh tarragon, rosemary, or thyme (optional)

5 or 6 cloves garlic, peeled (optional)

Chopped fresh herbs for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 450°F. Five minutes after turning on the oven, put a cast-iron or other heavy ovenproof skillet on a rack set low in the oven. Rub the chicken with the olive oil, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and put the herb sprigs on it if you're using them.

2. When both oven and pan are hot, 10 or 15 minutes later, carefully put the chicken, breast side up, in the hot skillet; if you're using garlic, scatter it around the bird. Roast, undisturbed, for 40 to 50 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the meaty part of the thigh registers 155–165°F. 3. Tip the pan to let the juices from the bird's cavity flow into the pan (if they are red, cook for another 5 minutes). Transfer the bird to a platter and let it rest; if you like, pour the pan juices into a clear measuring cup, then pour or spoon off some of the fat. Reheat the juices if necessary, quarter the bird (see the illustrations on page 685), garnish, and serve with the pan juices.

Herb-Roasted Chicken.

A little more elegant: Start the cooking without the olive oil. About halfway through, spoon a mixture of 1/4 cup olive oil and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, chervil, basil, or dill over the chicken. Garnish with more chopped herbs.

Lemon-Roasted Chicken.

Brush the chicken with olive oil before roasting; cut a lemon in half and put it in the chicken's cavity. Roast, more or less undisturbed, until done; squeeze the juice from the cooked lemon over the chicken and carve.

Roast Chicken with Paprika.

With good paprika, quite delicious: Combine the olive oil with about 1 tablespoon sweet paprika or smoked pimentón. Roast Chicken with Soy Sauce. Chinese-style roast chicken, made easy: Replace the olive oil with peanut or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn. Halfway through the cooking, spoon or brush over the chicken a mixture of 1/4 cup soy sauce, 2 tablespoons honey, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1 teaspoon grated or minced fresh ginger (or 1 teaspoon ground ginger), and 1/4 cup minced scallion.

Roast Chicken with Cumin, Honey, and Orange Juice.

Sweet and exotic: Halfway through the cooking, spoon or brush over the chicken a mixture of 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice, 2 tablespoons honey, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, and salt and pepper to taste.

5 More Ways to Flavor Simplest Whole Roast Chicken

There are many ways to flavor a roast chicken; here are some simple ideas to get you started:

1. Lemon: Use 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice in addition to or in place of olive oil.

2. Lime: Use 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice in a soy sauce mix (as in the Roast Chicken with Soy Sauce variation) or with some minced jalapeño or serrano chiles or hot red pepper flakes, chopped fresh cilantro leaves to taste, and a tablespoon or two of peanut oil.

3. Honey-Mustard: Combine 2 tablespoons to 1/3 cup mustard with 2 tablespoons honey and rub the chicken with this mixture during the final stages of roasting.

4. Wine: Put 1/2 cup white wine and 2 cloves crushed garlic in the bottom of the roasting pan; baste with this in addition to or in place of the olive oil mixture.

5. Curry: In place of the olive oil, use neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn-or butter. Combine 1/2 cup coconut milk and 2 tablespoons curry powder and baste the chicken with this mixture during the final stages of roasting.