Chicken with Two Lemons

This is my all-time favorite recipe and comes from Marcella Hazan, probably the best writer around on Italian cuisine. It is difficult to believe how a dish so simple, so easy and so foolproof can taste so exquisite. This is so simple, low fat, low calorie and cheap that you can use it any time. This recipe will give flavour to almost any old chicken but for best results try to use a good free-range chicken, and it also works for Guinea Fowl and Cornish Game Hens. For variety you can substitute limes for the lemons. It goes well with mashed or soufflé potato. --Ashley

3 to 4 lb. chicken
2 small lemons
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).

Wash the chicken inside and out with cold water and remove any bits of fat hanging loose. Thoroughly drain the bird pat it dry all around with either a tea towel or kitchen roll. Sprinkle a generous amount of salt and pepper all over the chicken, inside and out, rubbing it in with your fingers.

Wash the lemons in cold water and dry them as for the chicken. Soften each one by rolling it back and forth on a counter top apply firm pressure with the palm of your hand. Puncture each lemon at least 20 times with a cocktail stick, trussing needle or similar pointed implement. Place both lemons in the bird's cavity and close it up (both ends) using cocktail sticks or trussing needle and string. Close it well but not absolutely airtight otherwise the chicken may well explode! As it is the chicken will puff up during cooking and makes for an appealing presentation at the table. Tie the two chicken legs together in their normal position (do not pull tight), this is only to prevent the thighs from spreading and splitting the skin.

Put the chicken into a roasting pan, breast side down. Do not add cooking fat of any kind, it is self-basting and will not stick to the pan. Place the pan in the upper third of the pre-heated oven. After 30 minutes turn the chicken over so that it is breast up. Try not to puncture the skin as you do this (don't worry if you do, it still tastes delicious even if it does not puff up). Cook for a further 30 minutes and then, without touching the chicken, turn the oven up to 200°C (400°F) and cook for an additional 20 minutes or so. The bird should cook for 20-25 minutes per pound so some slight adjustment may be needed in cooking times, judge it by eye. Because of the basting effect of the lemons the bird will not dry out so err on the side of caution and cook a little longer if you are in doubt.

When the bird is ready place it on a platter and bring it to the table whole before carving there. Leave the lemons inside while carving. The pan juices and any liquid that runs out as the bird is being carved form a wonderful sauce.

Any leftovers are delicious cold, especially if kept moist with some of the cooking juices, served at room temperature (not straight out of the fridge).

Source of recipe: Marcella Hazan