This post comes from a special guest chef. Someone who has been perfecting roast chickens slowly over time. I think he is the master. No two versions are exactly the same – which I love. And he even remembers to serve it with vegetables now! The guest chef is chicken wrangler Timbo.

the best roast chicken

Here she is. I was possibly the hungriest I’d ever been when I shot this. Note to self: do not attempt food photography when hungry.

The Way of Roast Chicken

By Timbo

If you’re looking for a simple, reliable join-the-dots roast chicken recipe with precise quantities and times then move along; this is not for you.

True roast chicken requires much from the roaster.  It requires a long-term commitment. It requires a relationship of respect, built on a foundation of consistent, dutiful roasting and patient study. Roast chicken at its best is a spiritual experience; not one whose charms can be laid out in recipe form to be exploited by the insincere.

If you are able to make the necessary commitment; if your intentions are wholly honourable, then read on.  Set out below are some thoughts on that may help you in your journey.


A chicken.  There are a lot of different chickens out there to choose from.  What you choose is up to you.  An inexpensive supermarket chicken can be delicious; an expensive organic stress-free chicken that lived at a Golden Door resort can be boring.  Experiment a bit. [Note from editor: my preference is for free-range but this isn't my post].

Some chopped herbs. Dill works well with chicken.  Others swear by Tarragon. Again, it’s up to you.

A few cloves of garlic, smooshed or chopped up.

A tablespoon or two of butter

Salt and pepper

A lemon

Potatoes peeled and chopped into pieces about 3cm think.  Large potatoes are good because you end up with more flat sides that crisp up well. Pink ones seem to roast better than white ones.

Butternut pumpkin peeled and chopped into pumpkin sized pieces.  This is a side dish, but also integral to the success of the overall meal.  More on this later.

Frozen peas

What to do

Fire up the oven to 220 deg C and put a large baking tray in there with some olive oil in it.

While it’s heating up, there are a few preliminaries to attend to.

Firstly, you need to smoosh together the herbs, the butter and the garlic, together with a sensible amount of salt and pepper (maybe more). This mixture then goes under the skin of the chicken breast. Be gentle.

The chicken will go into the oven breast side up (but not just yet) and the mooshed up herbs/butter/garlic stuff will help in achieving an appealing brown skin tone, as well as moist flesh.

Then, heat the lemon in the microwave or boiling water until it’s quite hot. Stab it a few times with a sharp knife.  You will likely burn yourself with hot lemon juice doing this.  Do not show pain. Just pop the hot, oozy lemon inside the chicken.  This will add some lemony goodness and help get the chicken innards up to temperature sooner.

With this done, the chicken can go into the oven with a shot of salt and pepper and a splash of olive oil, together with the butternut pumpkin IN THE SAME PAN.

chook + pumpkin

Potatoes next.  What you’ll do here is drop the potato pieces into a saucepan of boiling water for 10-12 minutes or so, then drain them, bounce them around a bit in the saucepan to rough up the edges, and let dry.  Having been partially cooked like this the potatoes will only need about 45 minutes in the oven, and their insides will be nice and fluffy when done.


When the chicken has properly established itself in the oven (about 30-45 minutes after it went in) the potatoes can go in. Try not to put them in too early (as explained below).  They go in a separate tray with a light drizzle of olive oil, and the tray needs to have enough room for them to spread out a bit. A potato that has its personal space invaded will be an unhappy, soggy potato.

Taking stuff out of the oven.

Here is where things can get a little delicate.  Timing is a matter of judgement, and depends a bit on your oven and some other factors.  Let’s take things one at a time. [Ed note: our oven is the mighty Chef Baroness and is about 1,000,000 years old. It is old and manky but it can still produce a great roast].

The mighty Chef Baroness

Pumpkin. The pumpkin is the quiet achiever in this dish.  It is tasty in its own right, and it has an important contribution to make to the all important gravy.  It can come out of the oven, when it looks nicely done, by which I mean almost burnt.  HOWEVER, the pumpkin has not fully done its job unless there is some gooey, caramelised pumpkiny gunk left on the bottom of the pan.  If this hasn’t happened, cook longer or leave some of the pumpkin in the oven.  These pieces may get too burnt to eat, but they are sacrificing themselves to a higher purpose – the gravy. For those pumpkins that were removed early in the process, pop them back in the oven close to serving time to regain some heat. Easy.

roast chook

The chicken. Baste the chicken as you go.  When it’s time to remove, there are two criteria that must be met.  Firstly it needs to look done:  nicely brown, almost verging on burnt in areas where the herb/butter goo was under the skin, lighter colour in other areas.  Secondly, as with the pumpkin, the pan needs to look like it has the foundations of a worthy gravy, which will be formed by stuff which was previously part of the chicken but is now a sort of goo in the pan. Essentially the pan should look a bit grubby.

The traditional way to check for doneness is to put a skewer in the chicken to see if the juices run clear, but if you rely on this and don’t satisfy the other two tests, then your meal will fall well short of its potential. I find that 220 deg C for the whole duration works well, but you may need to play with temperature to bring these things together at the right time.

The chicken needs to rest under some foil on a warm plate when it comes out. At least 10 minutes, but feel free to leave it longer.

Potatoes. The potatoes are ready when they look ready.  Turn them over a few times while cooking to get even brownness.  It is probably the potatoes that should determine when it’s time for dinner, as they will maintain their magnificent crispiness only for a limited time after coming out of the oven. You want to take them out of the oven, drop them onto a plate and go.  If the other elements of the dish have to sit on the bench for a little while waiting for the potatoes to be ready, that’s fine. They will understand. Just keep them warm.

Good. Spuds.

Gravy. Where to start ?  First, some basic principles:  Gravy is the conductor in the roast chicken orchestra. It should respond to the mood (lighter and gentler in summer, heartier in winter), and it must be extremely delicious.  Gravy can be tricky, and I’ve heard there are people who prepare roast chicken without gravy. They dwell in grey twilight and are to be pitied.

Hopefully, along the way you have got the requisite gravy base from the pumpkin and the chicken. This preparation is everything.  There will also likely be some unnecessary fat floating on the top.  Gently pour this out so you have about a tablespoon or two of good stuff left. Now, put the pan on a medium-high hotplate.  Add a couple of teaspoons of flour.  It doesn’t matter much what sort of flour you use.  The gluten free stuff seems to work fine. Mix it up with the pan juices until you have a sort of icky paste.  You basically want to absorb all the free liquid in the pan.  Let the paste brown a little.  It may look unattractive.  That’s fine.

Then, begin a process of gradually adding warm stock to the paste and mixing together over medium-high heat.  I don’t mind if you use powdered stock and hot water.  A consommé this isn’t. Keep going until you have a consistency that works for you. Get to know your gravy along the way – taste it to make sure it feels and tastes right.

The resting chicken, meanwhile, should release quite a bit of juice which can be tipped into the gravy. If it doesn’t, you may have overcooked it. That is sad.  Next time you may want to try a hotter oven and a shorter cooking time.

The gravy, when ready can then sit happily on a moderate heat until required. Stir occasionally.

Green things


Take some frozen peas and microwave them with a splash of water.  That’s all. The other elements of the dish require your attention, and you can waste a lot of time trying to find a better accompaniment than frozen peas. [Ed: broccoli or beans are great matches with the roast].

Pour yourself a well earned glass of chardonnay or…..etc and soak up the praise.