Basic Roast Chicken, the Recipe

I offer this recipe as a guideline, not a dictate. There are a few basic steps, the details of which can vary. Season with the za’atar suggested here, or with other herbs and spices — or just with salt and pepper. Stuff with the lemons and shallots in my recipe, or with garlic and fresh herbs such as thyme and rosemary.

Place on a bed of leeks and lemon slices like I do, or on a mixture of eggplant rounds and bell pepper chunks, or on a variety of root vegetables (carrots, parsnips, potatoes and/or beets) — or forget the vegetable bed entirely and sit your chickens on a roasting rack.

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Make two chickens like I do, because then nobody fights over the legs and you have built-in leftovers. Or make just one if that’s your preference.

The point is, you can hardly go wrong. Watch our how-to video for inspiration, then try it.

2 whole chickens, approximately 4 pounds each, preferably organic
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 teaspoons za’atar (optional; see note below)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 lemons, one quartered; the other cut into ¼-inch rounds
1 shallot, peeled and cut into large pieces
2 leeks (white and light green parts only), cut into ½-inch rounds (or a few shallots or onions)

1) Preheat oven to 424 degrees F.

2) Pat chickens dry with paper towels and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.

3) In a small bowl, combine za’atar (if using) with salt and pepper. Sprinkle all over chickens. Place 2 lemon quarters and half the shallots into the birds’ cavities.

4) Drizzle roasting pan with remaining tablespoon of oil. Scatter leeks and lemon rounds in roasting pan. Place chickens on top, breast side up. Roast on middle rack of oven for 1½ hours or until chicken is cooked through (juices run clear when area between leg and thigh is pricked with a knife).

5) Remove chickens to a large cutting board and let rest for about 10 minutes before carving. Serve with roasted lemons and leeks on the side.

Note: Za’atar is a Middle-Eastern spice mixture of sumac, thyme or oregano, and sesame seeds. It’s available at La Boite, a New York shop owned by Israeli and spice master Lior Lev Sercarz, Penzey’s and Kalustyan’s. For a simple and delicious dinner, sprinkle it on chicken pieces or fish fillets that you’ve drizzled with a little olive oil, then roast.

Liza Schoenfein is the food editor of the Forward. Contact her at schoenfein@forward.com and follow her on Twitter @LifeDeathDinner. Her personal blog is Life, Death & Dinner.

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