how to roast a pastured chicken

This post is part of a series.  To buy Volume One of the e-book containing several REAL FOOD 101 tutorials, click here: REAL FOOD 101 E-book: Traditional Foods, Traditionally Prepared.

Classic roast chicken is something that almost everyone has made.  But the question is not whether or not you have made it, but if you have made it well.

Roast chicken is simple, but it can also be done wrong.  Very wrong!  If you want to know how to make a perfectly cooked, crispy-skinned, beautifully browned, juicy roast chicken, then you need only follow a few basic guidelines.

First, you want to understand your bird.  Commercial or store-bought chickens are very different from local, pastured birds.  “Pastured” is a term that means the birds really did live outside eating bugs, not just that they had “access to the outdoors” like most “free range” birds you see at the health food store.  Finding pastured chickens can be tricky, but it is definitely worth it.

Pastured birds are leaner, and a bit drier because they are not eating fattening feed, getting no exercise, and then injected with solution after they are packaged. 

Second, you want to know what to do differently with a pastured bird.  How do you get this kind of poultry to really shine?  With a pastured chicken, you want to use a few rules of thumb:

  1. Roast the chicken breast side down: The breast is where the white meat is, and the white meat tends to be the driest.  So roast the bird breast side down and the breast will be nice and moist.  (The pictures in this post are from a chicken I roasted breast side up, but still following the rest of these rules of thumb.  It was still moist, so you can get away with that sometimes!)
  2. Roast at a lower temperature, for longer: Pastured birds do much better when they are roasted at 325 degrees or so, and for a bit longer.  The skin still gets crispy and browned, but the bird stays moister.
  3. Roast over a bed of potatoes and vegetables instead of in a roasting pan: This is not only functional, but absolutely scrumptious.  When you roast the chicken over the veggies, the chicken gets moisture from the vegetables as they all roast together, since the water in the vegetables creates a bit of humidity and steam in the oven.  And the juices from the chicken as it roasts permeate the veggies, giving them great flavor.  Win win!
  4. Let the roast chicken sit for at least 20 minutes after roasting so the juices don’t run out: This is a rule common among all roasts, but it’s still important for a pastured bird.  Let the roasted chicken rest on a cutting board before slicing into it, and when you do finally carve it, the pieces of meat will be moist and roasted to perfection.

Finally, let your family, friends, or guests in on the secret: this is a real chicken.  It is important that when we make our food choices, we share our perspective with each other. After all, we vote with our money three times every day; we show our economy what we value by the quality of the food we buy.  That’s why I buy local, organic, and conscientiously as much as I can.

Don’t beat anyone over the head with a million factoids about factory farming.  And don’t try and scare them or shame them from eating commercial poultry.  That’s not very kind! But do simply share that your bird is from somewhere local, where you know and trust the farmer.  Share how this kind of chicken is worth the extra effort, because the nutrients are better for you.

Create the kind of appreciation and respect that your chicken deserves.  It had a good life so you could benefit from it’s nourishment.

Equipment Needed:

  • jelly roll pan, parchment paper, kitchen twine
  • kitchen shears, good knife

This recipe is extra special because when you roast the vegetables together, the lemon slices and garlic cloves really shine.  The garlic cloves mellow out and become buttery and fragrant.  And the lemon slices are quite indescribable!  They become soft and sweet, but still maintain their bright flavor.  It’s savory heaven!

Herb-Roasted Pastured Chicken

for the vegetable bed:
3 pounds potatoes, preferably organic Yukon Gold variety, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 large onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
20 cloves of garlic, peeled
4 organic* lemons, thinly sliced into wheels, ends discarded
olive oil (buy good quality, real olive oil here)
salt and pepper (buy unrefined sea salt and organic pepper here)
1 teaspoon dried basil (buy organic spices and herbs here)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried parsley
*always use organic when you are able, but definitely use organic lemons for this recipe since you will be consuming the lemon peels

for the chicken:
1 3-5 pound pastured chicken
4 tablespoons butter
1 lemon, cut in half
1 onion cut in half
1 head of garlic, cut in half horizontally
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tablespoon dried basil (buy organic spices and herbs here)
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon dried parsley

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper.  Set aside.
  2. Make the vegetable bed:  In a large bowl, mix the potatoes, onions, garlic cloves, and lemon slices together.  Drizzle several tablespoons of olive oil over the mixture and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Add the basil, thyme, rosemary, and parsley, and toss all together to combine.  Place the vegetables into the prepared jelly roll pan and spread out in an even layer.
  3. Make the chicken:  Remove the giblets from the cavity of the chicken and set aside.  Use them to make chicken stock.  Rinse the chicken off with cold water, including the cavity.  Pat dry with a towel.
  4. Stuff the cavity with one half of the lemon, both halves of the onion, both halves of the head of garlic, and the sprigs of fresh thyme.  Tie the legs together with kitchen twine to keep the cavity closed, and to ensure the chicken roasts evenly.
  5. Place the chicken on the bed of prepared vegetables.  If you are roasting the chicken breast side up, tuck the wings under the bird to keep them from sticking out.  If roasting the chicken breast side down, use the kitchen twine to tie them down.
  6. Using your hands, rub butter all over the skin of the chicken that is showing.  Squeeze the remaining half a lemon all over the vegetables and the chicken.
  7. In a small bowl, mix the dry spices together: basil, thyme, rosemary, and parsley.  Sprinkle them all over the chicken so they stick to the butter and lemon juice.
  8. Roast the chicken on a rack in the bottom third of the oven for 2 1/2 hours, or until the chicken in tender and registers around 165 degrees.
  9. Remove from the oven.  Lift the chicken off the vegetables and onto a cutting board.  Tent with foil or parchment and let rest for 15-20 minutes.  Then, remove the parchment and carve the chicken to serve.  Serve with the roasted vegetables, or even some preserved lemons on the side.