I used to be very intimated by the idea of roasting a whole chicken. What if I over-cooked it? Or worse, what if I under-cooked it? On top of that, it seemed to me that everyone on and off of the Internet had their own method of making the best! perfect! roast! chicken! Where would a girl begin?
I quickly learned that with the help of a cast iron skillet and an instant-read meat thermometer, it’s unbelievably easy to make a great, and simple, roast chicken. Even if you don’t own a meat thermometer, you can still use a paring knife to cut into the thickest part of the chicken thigh to check if the juices run clear: if they do, the chicken is cooked; if you see any hint of pink, return the chicken to the oven, and keep cooking, checking every 5 minutes until there are no longer any blushing tones of pink.
Once I knew how to cook a great, simple, roast chicken, it was time to move forward: I wanted a superb, flavorful, one-pan, hands-off, wow-worthy roast chicken dinner — I wanted a mouthful. This spiced harissa and lemon roast chicken instantly became one of those “oooh!” dinners.
Harissa is a north African red chili pepper condiment and is irresistibly good on a variety of meats and vegetables. I’ve used ground harissa for this recipe, but I’ve made it with harissa paste, as well. While both versions produce fiery, and succulent results, I, personally, prefer the ground harissa version because the paste version has a tendency to burn off a bit in the oven.
And don’t forget the garlic and potatoes - they’re the best part of this meal. As the chicken cooks, its rendered fat drips onto the whole, unpeeled (yes) cloves of garlic and quartered potatoes, creating the most succulent morsels of garlic, crispy delectable potatoes, and effortlessly irresistible pan sauce. Just a note: have your guests discard the garlic peels as they eat them (the peels come off fairly easily with the slightest nudge of a fork).
This is a one-pan, stand-alone dinner for me, but feel free to append with some nice bread or a simple salad on the side.
Harissa & Lemon Roast Chicken with Garlic & Potatoes
Serves 4; 2 hour cook time (includes prep)
1 3-4lb whole roasting chicken, with giblets removed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon harissa, ground
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 large lemon, cut in half
6 Yukon potatoes, red or gold, quartered
1 head of garlic, cloves separated, left whole and unpeeled
1 small red onion, peeled and quartered
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bay leaf, optional
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Large 10-12" cast iron skillet
Microwave (to melt butter)
Arrange your oven rack so that it's in the center of the oven. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.
Remove the giblets from the chicken, and pat the outside dry with a paper towel. Set aside.
Microwave the butter, ground harissa, and kosher salt together in a small bowl just until the butter melts. Mix to combine. Season the whole chicken, including the cavity, with the butter mixture - make sure to get every surface: under the wings, alongside the backbone, between the thighs, and under the skins of the breast and thighs.
Squeeze the juice from half a lemon all over the chicken, and put the wedge inside the chicken cavity. Set chicken aside while you prepare the garlic and potatoes (this seasoned chicken can be prepped and refrigerated up to 24 hours in advance).
Quarter your red onion and potatoes (cut into 6 pieces if your potatoes are on the larger side). Separate your garlic cloves but leave them whole and unpeeled. Transfer the onion, potatoes and garlic cloves to a large cast iron skillet. Add olive oil, a generous pinch of kosher salt (about 1/2 teaspoon), some black pepper, and a bay leaf. Squeeze juice from the second half of the lemon over the potatoes and garlic (set wedge aside). Mix to combine.
Take the second lemon wedge, and put it inside of the chicken cavity. Transfer chicken to rest on top of the potatoes and garlic. Place the cast iron skillet in the oven, and roast the chicken at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. This initial burst of higher heat helps to create a very crispy skin (and a beautiful golden color) for your roast chicken.
After 20 minutes, reduce heat to 400 degrees. Continue to roast the chicken for 1 hour. Check for doneness by using a meat thermometer or a pairing knife: the chicken is done when the thermometer reads 165 degrees (anything over will produce a drier chicken so it's best to remove the chicken once it hits 160 degrees, and let it reach 165 degrees via carry-over cooking as it rests); it's also done when you cut into the deepest part of the thigh, and see clear running juices. If the chicken is not yet done, continue to cook, checking every 5 minutes.
Let chicken rest for 15 minutes, uncovered, before carving. Serve with pan juices, garlic, and potatoes.
If you try any of my recipes, share on Instagram by using the hashtag #afsanaliza & tagging me at @afsana so I can see your creations!