Roast Chicken with Preserved Lemons

There hasn’t been a recipe here for a bit, what with all the life going on…but today’s the day. Herein please find the recipe for the best roast chicken you ever had in your life.

Seriously, don't you want to eat this?

Seriously, don’t you want to eat this?

Now, I realize this is high praise, and might be seen as hyperbole. But let me tell you: I know from roast chicken. Not just because we grow and process our own (although that’s part of it): mostly because a good roast chicken might just be one of my superpowers. Not quite as much as gravy, but I can roast a chicken, y’all. Pretty much every week, one finds its way into my oven, and for the last year or so, it’s always this one.

A good roast bird is my favorite comfort food AND my favorite thing to cook for other people. In fact, that would be a reliable indicator: if I’ve roasted you a chicken, I’m likely pretty fond of you. One winter, while I was traveling for my dissertation research, I actually roasted 5 different chickens for 5 different households, in about 2 weeks. And when my sweetheart and I first started courting, it’s the very first meal I cooked for her in my own home. She got off the plane, I fed her a chicken (I didn’t expect her to eat the entire chicken, but still).

For much of my adult life, I’d been following the same rough recipe: one spatchcocked chicken, rubbed with a paste made of fresh thyme, mustard, chopped garlic, black pepper, olive oil, cooked to 160, rested for a half hour. It was my old reliable, but delicious every time, and the drippings made wonderful gravy (see superpower above).

So I was COMPLETELY HORRIFIED when a couple of years later, she came back from a visit to California, telling me that a mutual friend had made her THE MOST DELICIOUS ROAST CHICKEN SHE’D EVER EATEN. Which was, of course, not mine. After I got over my huff (well, mostly over)…she told me about it. Fresh oregano, olive oil, garlic, and most importantly, chopped preserved lemons, mashed into a paste and rubbed under the skin. Apparently the lemons and herbs blended into this amazing savory wonderfulness…so good that every scrap of drippings in the pan were all but licked up.

I remained skeptical.

After all, MY chicken was WONDERFUL. Lots of people had told me so. But then she made one for me, using our friend’s recipe. And you know what?

She was totally right. It IS the most delicious roast chicken ever. Seriously. Even though the drippings don’t really work for gravy, even though it’s different from mine. The truth is, this chicken is BETTER than the one I’d been wowing folks with for years.

Two brief editorial asides. No, three:

1) You will need preserved lemons for this dish. You can buy them at large groceries, and middle eastern shops, and of course Amazon, or you can make them yourself. It’s super easy, but you will need a little lead time. Here’s a nice little rundown on the process from NPR- Preserved Lemons: Older, Wiser, and Full of Flavor.

2) You want to spatchcock your chicken for this. Spatchcocking is just a fancy, chicken-specific term for butterflying. The beautiful thing about this is that it a) makes your chicken basically an even thickness throughout, so the white and dark meat cook evenly, and b) it thus cooks faster, and puts all the skin ON TOP, where it can get crispy and brown. Here’s a nice little video from the BBC, which explains the process in just a minute: How to Spatchcock a Chicken. I don’t do the skewering part: I just flatten it out and go.

Spatchcocked and flattened out.

Spatchcocked and flattened out.

3) Yes, yes- you COULD use this same recipe on chicken breasts (but not boneless skinless ones: you’ll need that skin to cover the lemon mixture). But I want to encourage you NOT to do that. Roasted chicken breasts hold none of the charm of a whole roast chicken, and are by FAR the most expensive way to eat chicken. Plus, they’re boring and they dry out fast. Jump in both feet: cook a whole chicken.

But maybe, for instance, you don’t like dark meat. I don’t understand that myself, but you can use that dark meat to make other delicious things over the week: chicken salad, a nice little soup, shred it and put it in your lunches. If, that is, you can keep yourself from snarfing the whole chicken down immediately.

Chicken, lemons, herbs. Everything you need for happiness.

Chicken, lemons, herbs. Everything you need for happiness.

Roast Chicken with Preserved Lemons

Equipment: a sheet pan, a good sharp knife, a small bowl to mix the lemon and herbs together, an instant read thermometer, kitchen shears.

One whole chicken (I’m using one of our own here, but any good pastured chicken would do.)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 6 inch stems of oregano, pulled off the stem and chopped
2 green onions, chopped
3oz preserved lemon (this is about a half lemon), chopped finely, peel and all
2oz olive oil
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Spatchcock your chicken, using directions above. Mix all other ingredients in a small bowl.

Lemon mixture.

Lemon mixture.

Gently lift the skin on the breast, and push about 1/5 of the lemon mixture into the resulting pocket. Massage paste through the skin to distribute it over the breast. Repeat process with other breast, and both thighs. Rub remaining lemon mixture on the bony side of your flattened chicken, and place skin side up on the sheet pan.

I always rub the herbs that are stuck on my hands over the skin, before it goes into the oven.

I always rub the herbs and lemon that are stuck on my hands over the skin, before it goes into the oven.

Grind a bit more black pepper over the skin, and slide the chicken into your hot oven.

Roast for 30 minutes, then check its temperature in the meatiest part of the thigh. You’re looking for 160 degrees. Not done? Give it another 5 minutes, and check again. Half the trick to a really good roast chicken is taking it out WHEN IT’S DONE, not when it’s given up all its delicious juices to your pan.

Let it rest for at least 20 minutes. For this one, I moved it to a platter that I’d heaped with fresh arugula from our garden, and then drizzled the drippings from the pan over the greens.

Seriously, don't you want to eat this?

Seriously, don’t you want to eat this?

It was amazing. You should make one.

Until next time,


(With a tip of the internet nib to SSML, whose recipe I adapted. E was right.)

This post shared on Homestead Blog Hop #28. Thanks for visiting!

About faegood

Nerd. Cook. Animal lover. Pen for hire.
This entry was posted in Chickens, Recipes and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Roast Chicken with Preserved Lemons

  1. Sarah Raab says:

    Hey! What timing!! I just made my preserved Meyer roasted chicken tonight!!! I swear by roasting it in the cast iron pan (though I love a good spatchcocked bird as well)!

    Fun to read this tonight. Xo Sarah


    Liked by 1 person

    • faegood says:

      You know, a spatchcocked bird FITS in my cast iron pan. I just made a chicken-under-a-brick in it a few weeks ago (delicious, but not as good as this). The acid from the lemons might be too much for the metal, though. I’ll have to try it.


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