Food: French-style Roasted Chicken

PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Creative

Kimberly Thompson PHOTO CREDIT: JEFF SAMPSON Contributed

When I was a college student, I was living in a fifth-floor walk-up apartment in downtown Iowa City.

The apartment was on the top floor of a converted seminary/converted office building and, consequently, had a tiny kitchen — maybe 6-feet long by 3-feet wide, but my very first. And it was here that I began to take a serious interest in cooking.

On a limited student budget, I typically cooked pasta dishes (and frittatas from their leftovers), or batches of stir fries made with any ingredient on hand or that I could afford.

Since one cannot live on pasta and stir fry alone, I eventually started to expand my menu by reading cookbooks, as well as food magazines and newspaper columns.

One of these columns was in either Bon Appetit or Food and Wine magazine, with a title like, “Quick and Delicious Chicken Recipes.”

One of my favorite recipes was Poulet Rôti — French-style Roasted Chicken.

I was never able to quickly execute any of these dishes, especially in a kitchen without any counter space. Nevertheless, my efforts often were rewarded by tasty meals that I made for friends.

This particular dish looked and tasted like it took hours to prepare.

Recently, while going through cookbooks and old recipes I had cut out from food magazines, I came across this infamous Poulet Rôti recipe, stained and torn, but still readable. Seeing it brought back so many memories that I felt I had to make it.

It’s a relatively simple recipe with minimal ingredients, easy cooking directions, and yields a delicious dish, especially when served with a side salad.

The chicken is moist, tender and lemony, bathed in a buttery sauce flavored with thyme, lemon and garlic.

Along with the potatoes, it has a sort of retro look that on a cozy evening provides some measure of comfort.

This time around, I followed the recipe except for adding fresh ground pepper and additional seasonings to taste. I also have learned from experience to not add any extra herbs on top of the chicken as they will burn. Just sprinkle the chicken with coarse sea salt.

Keeping one’s eyes on the cooking temperature is essential for this dish, so I recommend placing a meat thermometer into the crook between the chicken’s breast and thigh. The temperature should read 165 degrees.

One final note: As was the case decades ago, friends and family love this dish and think that it takes much more effort and skill to cook than it does. The presentation is beautiful, and your house (or tiny apartment) will smell amazing.

French-style Roasted Chicken — Poulet Rôti


1 whole 3.5-4 lbs. chicken

1 lb. baby potatoes, rinsed and cut in half

2 heads of garlic plus 3 cloves for inside the chicken, peel on

2 tsp. of coarse salt

¼ cup of olive oil

5 tbsp. butter, room temperature

1 lemon, rinsed and cut in half

7-8 branches of fresh thyme


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Start with a whole chicken of about 3.5-4 lbs.

Remove the insides. Your bagged chicken might have a neck and gizzards inside the cavity. Discard unless you are planning to make chicken broth. In that case, keep the neck to add to the bouillon for flavor.

Pat down the chicken with a paper towel or clean kitchen towel. Removing the moisture helps to make a crispy skin.

Set the chicken in a roasting pan greased with olive oil. Make sure to use a pan big enough for the potatoes (roasted chicken always is served with potatoes in France).

Mix the room temperature butter with the leaves from three branches of thyme in a bowl.

Using your fingers gently lift the chicken skin over the breast and spread the butter and herb mixture under the skin. You might need to pry the skin a little at the beginning (starting from the base of chicken). But then, it will lift rather easily. Adding the butter mixture under the skin will result in a very flavorful, juicy meat and crispy skin.

Inside the chicken cavity, stuff two branches of thyme, the three cloves of garlic, both lemon halves and a teaspoon of salt.

Using cooking twine, tie the legs together.

Sprinkle coarse salt over the top of the chicken

Drizzle olive oil generously over the chicken. (This also helps to make the skin crispy.)

Cut the top off a whole head of unpeeled garlic (width wise) and place opposite sides of the pan (skin side down).

Arrange the halved baby potatoes around the chicken and garlic.

Put the remaining branches of thyme in with the potatoes.

Add another generous drizzle of olive oil over the garlic and potatoes.

Place 2 tablespoons of butter around the potatoes. Note: Using butter, as well as olive oil on the potatoes, makes for the most amazing, crispy potatoes.

It’s as easy as that. Once you get the hang of it, the entire process takes 10 minutes. Add in the time it takes to toss a green salad and you have an amazing meal ready with less than 25 minutes of effort.

Roasting the chicken

Place the roasting pan with the chicken and potatoes on the center rack of your 350-degree oven, uncovered.

Bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes, until the chicken is done.

Approximately one hour into cooking, baste the chicken by taking a spoon (or a baster) and pour the cooking juice over the chicken, potatoes and the garlic.

Stir the potatoes, then put the dish back into the oven to finish cooking.

Kimberly Thompson is the owner of The Grateful Gourmet in Galena, Ill.

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