*Note: I've tweaked this recipe a bit, so look for italicized changes below!*
Kudos to Katie for her recipe request!
Now, for the full disclaimer: I have never written down any sort of recipe for this, so what I'm about to present is merely my best guess. Here's how it came about: One day, I had thawed a whole chicken to roast for dinner. I had seen chefs on the Food Network putting things under the skin to flavor the meat, and I thought that was a smash-up idea. The only problem was that, at the time I had this thawed chicken on hand, I seemed to have none of the actual things these chefs used. But I know that lemon, sage, and butter all work well with poultry, so I figured I'd give it a go and make up my own under-the-skin thing. Luckily, it worked like a charm.
This week, when I made this chicken, I used a whole chicken breast, and also brined it. The chicken comes from my mother-in-law, who, during the warm months, has been known to occasionally raise chickens for eating. (I'm not sure why, but something about that sentence makes my mother-in-law seem like some sort of barbarian.) Well, her chickens end up HUGE--so huge that a whole chicken breast is actually good for two meals for our family. I have never seen whole chicken breasts like this in the grocery store, but if you ever happen upon them, give 'em a try!
And last, before we get to the recipe: don't be put off by the length of the instructions. It's actually quite easy, it just so happens I'm feeling very chatty today and I couldn't stop myself from typing a lot of needless words.
Lemon Butter Sage Roasted Chicken
1 3-4 lb. chicken
1/2 c butter, softened
1-2 tsp. lemon juice (I didn't measure)
1 tsp. rubbed sage (or more, if you love sage so much you want to marry it)
3-4 cloves garlic, pressed
kosher or ground sea salt
2 quarts hot water
1/2 c. salt
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. dried lemon peel
Rinse chicken. In a very large bowl, combine ingredients for brine, and stir until salt and sugar are dissolved. When the water has cooled a bit (room temperature-ish), submerge the chicken, breast side down. Cover bowl, and chuck it (gingerly) into the fridge, where it can rest for a very long time. Shoot for several hours. Two, maybe? Three? It's not an exact science. *Note: I don't always brine, and this chicken still turns out pretty yummy, so don't fret if you opt to skip this step.
In the meantime, and pretty much right before you want to roast the chicken, mix together the softened butter, lemon juice, sage and garlic. You will want this mixture to be pretty pliable (but not runny) when you use it, so keep it at room temperature.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Yes, that's right. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Using your fingers, loosen the skin from the breast, taking care not to tear it. The reason for this is two-fold: 1) it will give you a place to slide your delicious butter mixture, and 2) it will make for crispier, golden brown skin. (At our house, we like to eat the yummy crispy skin, but don't tell our cardiologist. Okay, we don't have a cardiologist, but if we did, this is the kind of thing we'd keep secret.)
Using a spoon, take portions of the butter and slide them under the skin. Just shove the spoon under there, and use your fingers on the outside of the skin to scoot the butter to where you want it to be. When you're satisfied with your butter distribution, pat the skin dry again, rub a little olive oil on the skin, and season with a bit of salt. Also, generously salt and pepper the cavity of the bird.
Place chicken in whatever vessel you're cooking it in (uncovered, of course), breast side up.* Let it roast at 425 until done. When is it done? Good question. I use a thermometer with an alarm--I put it into the thickest part of the thigh, set the temp at 165, and walk away until it beeps at me. If you only have an instant-read thermometer, test it at about 50 minutes, and adjust cooking time accordingly. If you have neither, you're on your own. I'd say that an hour and a quarter to an hour and a half will be about right, but don't hold me to that.
When you remove it from the oven, let it rest without cutting it for about 15 minutes. Then, dig in and enjoy! Spoon the pan juices over the chicken for extra scrumptious flavor.
*Another note: if you're using a whole chicken, you may want to consider putting your chicken on some sort of rack to keep it elevated from the bottom of the pan so the bottom isn't soggy and flaccid. Sometimes, I butterfly the chicken by cutting out the backbone with a pair of kitchen shears and smooshing the chicken flat. Then I line the bottom of the roasting pan with large chunks of celery and onion and place the butterflied chicken on top of that--this also serves as an "aromatic," flavoring the meat as well. PLUS, butterflying the chicken cuts the total roasting time. Or, skip the butterflying step, and use celery ribs for a simple "rack" under the whole chicken. (I just did this a few days ago with some limp-looking celery. I curled the celery ribs up in the bottom of a cast-iron skillet and put the chicken on top. Worked great!)