The Crispiest Spring Chicken

roasted chicken leg

A few weeks ago I mentioned I was reading The Dirty Life. Can we pretend we’re in book club for a moment? I want to share a passage:

First, here’s the background: Author Kristin Kimball left New York City to interview a young farmer named Mark, fell in love, and shortly thereafter started a new life with him on a farm near Lake Champlain. The Dirty Life chronicles their first year at Essex Farm, which currently provides food year-round for over 200 families.

“When we would talk about our future in private, I would ask Mark if he really thought we had a chance. Of course we had a chance, he’d say, and anyway, it didn’t matter if this venture failed. In his view, we were already a success, because we were doing something hard, and it was something that mattered to us. You don’t measure things like that with words like success or failure, he said. Satisfaction comes from trying hard things and then going on to the next hard thing, regardless of the outcome. What mattered was whether or not you were moving in a direction you thought was right. This sounded fishy to me.

This conversation played out many times, with me anxious, Mark calm, until once, as we sat together reviewing our expenses, I was almost in tears. I felt like we were teetering over an abyss. I wasn’t asking him to guarantee that we’d be rich. I just wanted him to assure me that we’d be solvent, that we’d be, as I put it, okay. Mark laughed. “What is the worst thing that could happen?” he asked. “We’re smart capable people. We live in the richest country in the world. There is food and shelter and kindness to spare. What in the world is there to be afraid of?”

I loved this. Isn’t it inspiring? Discuss.

While you exchange thoughts, let me tell you about this chicken, which is about the only thing I’ve made for weeks, and something I foresee keeping in the rotation despite the imminent arrival of grilling season.

It comes from the latest Martha Stewart Living, and what I loved about the recipe were two simple tips for getting the skin crispy:

1. Let the chicken stand at room temperature uncovered for one hour before cooking.

2. Pat chicken dry with paper towels so skin doesn’t steam in oven.

If you do these two things, in addition to letting the meat rest for 10 minutes before carving, your roast chicken will be divine — crispy skin, golden brown all around, juicy meat.

But I love the recipe for another reason, too: the sauce, which couldn’t be simpler to make. After the 30 minutes of roasting, you remove the chicken from the platter, and pour a mixture of basil, garlic, red pepper flakes and red wine vinegar over the sheetpan, which deglazes it, removing all of those flavorful crispy bits sticking to the bottom. The chicken then returns to the pan, where it rests for 10 minutes, during which time more juices release and mix with the herbs and vinegar.

That’s it — while the bird rests, the sauce materializes, and it couldn’t be more delicious. I’ve been serving this chicken with lightly dressed mustard greens and fresh bread. This meal — this sauce — demands it.

roasted chicken pieces

These are the sauce ingredients: olive oil, red wine vinegar, basil (or parsley or whatever herb you like), garlic and crushed red pepper flakes:
sauce ingredients

To get nice crisp skin and an even golden color, it’s important to dry off those chicken pieces really well:
drying off chicken

The chicken roasts with salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon of olive oil for 30 minutes at 450ºF.
ready for the oven

herb sauce

roasted chicken & herb sauce

Even the breasts are juicy:
sliced breast

bite of chicken

Roasted Quartered Chicken with Herb Sauce

Slightly adapted from Martha Stewart
Serves 4

1 whole chicken (about 4 pounds), quartered and backbone removed, room temperature (see photos/video below for guidance)
1 tablespoon plus 1/4 cup (optional, see notes in recipe) extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1 cup packed parsley or basil or tarragon (or whatever), chopped (or pulsed in food processor, see notes)
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic (or a couple of cloves, minced with herbs in the food processor)
1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, or more or less to taste

1. An hour before baking, remove chicken from fridge, quarter it (if you haven’t done so already), and let it rest on a cutting board or the rimmed sheetpan you will use to roast it on. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Note: I find my chicken gets the most evenly golden brown when I roast it on the highest rack. This definitely creates a more smokey oven, but it does work nicely.

Pat chicken dry really well with paper towels and transfer to rimmed baking sheet (if it’s not already there). Rub chicken with 1 tablespoon oil; season liberally all over with salt and pepper. Arrange, skin-side up and roast until golden (or until a thermometer inserted into thickest part of breast (without touching bone) registers 160 degrees), about 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, make the sauce. I use the food processor, and because I omit the 1/4 cup olive oil and use the pan juices in stead, (which amount to about 1/4 cup; see notes below for following original recipe), I simply pulse the basil with the garlic, red pepper flakes, and red wine vinegar, then pour this sauce over the sheetpan after the chicken finishes roasting. If you like this idea, when the chicken finishes roasting, transfer it to a plate for a second, pour sauce over the pan, scrape up those crispy bits, return chicken to pan and let it rest for 10 minutes. Just before serving, spoon the sauce over the chicken pieces. I find that waiting to pour the sauce overtop helps keep the skin crispy.

Note: This is what the original recipe suggests: Transfer chicken to a plate. Pour off and discard fat from baking sheet; return chicken to pan. Whisk together remaining 1/4 cup oil, vinegar, parsley, garlic, and pepper flakes in a bowl. Season with salt. Spoon sauce over chicken and let stand 10 minutes before serving with accumulated pan juices and sauce.

Here’s how to quarter a chicken:
whole chicken

First, cut it in half:
chicken in half

Then remove the backbone from the breastbone:
removing back bone from breastbone

Then, split the breast in half:
splitting the breast

Then, remove the backbone from the legs:
separating the legs

This video might offer some guidance, too, but you don’t have to separate the drumstick from the thigh, and you don’t remove the breast from the bone:

The Niskayuna Co-Op carries the most delicious mustard greens. They are so tender and barely require a dressing. For this meal, if I don’t feel like making a dressing, I just arrange the mustard greens on a serving platter, lay the pieces of chicken overtop, and pour all of the juices over everything. The heat of the chicken wilts the greens ever so slightly, and they are just delicious:
mustard greens

How have you all been cooking those ramps?

I’ve been roasting them. Delish.
ramps on sheetpan


      • says

        I finally got this on the table over the weekend. And today I lunched on some of the leftovers. The sauce takes simple chicken to a whole new level. I may have to start buying basil in bushels, pounds, or gallons in order to have a constant supply of the sauce at the ready.

        • says

          Yay! So happy to hear this Wendi. And I know, isn’t the sauce so good? Who knew that red wine vinegar, a few herbs and chicken drippings would unite so beautifully? My only goal this summer is to grow basil.

  1. Emily says

    This looks divine! I read The Dirty Life and loved it. I had forgotten about that passage, might need to revisit some chapters.

  2. says

    Alexandra, I cannot decide which is more inspiring: that awesome passage or this amazing chicken! I love that quote because I feel like I have both Kristin and Mark’s viewpoints within me. I tend to feel more like Kristin, but am always pushing myself to be more like Mark. I think another important factor related to doing meaningful things in life is the element of risk. While of course there are many meaningful things one can do in life that are not risky, pursuing your dreams often requires a healthy dose of risk-taking, and taking those risks is a great way to prove to yourself that you really believe in what you’re doing. I think having taken that risk can be really important and positive even if said venture actually does “fail”…on second thought, maybe that’s exactly what Mark was trying to say.

    Sorry for the long-winded comment! It looks like it’s time for me to go buy that book and a spring chicken :).

    • says

      I am the same, Becky! I wish I were more like Mark, but at heart I am very risk averse. I think that’s why I find the passage so inspiring — I think I find reasons to be afraid and some of those reasons might be valid, but sometimes I think I also convince myself that these reasons are more valid than they actually are. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment! You are so right that taking risks proves that you believe in what you are doing – love that idea.

  3. Bob says

    Chicken looks great. Could you do this same treatment with butterflied roast chicken? Love the sound of this sauce.

  4. Laurie says

    I used to say two things to my children when they were growing up and they hated both of them…..”The only thing that’s the end of the world is the end of the world”….and…..”Can’t” died in the cornfield”…..ROFL….I loved The Dirty Life and keep a copy of it next to the bed so that I can pull it out and read bits and pieces when I’m a mind to…as Oklahoman’s put it….:) Then there’s the awesome butternut squash pie recipe in it which I also LOVE! Everytime I’m out in the garden and my back hurts or it’s hot or it’s cold….I think about how hard farmers have to work, especially those working with draft animals and CSAs instead of some big corporation and I think I need to buck up and get on with it! As for the above recipe?? If there’s anything in the world of beautiful food more amazing than a crispy chicken skin with a lucious sauce I don’t know what it would be! Kristin Kimball is one of my heroines…..So is Alexandra Stafford!

    • says

      Laurie, you are hilarious. You were the first to introduce me to this book when you told me about that butternut squash pie last fall. I am dying to make it! Thank you as always for your kind words. You are too much. Big hugs!! xo

  5. says

    First, the video, I am in awe, mouth open and eyes wide. In 1 minute and 54 seconds you did what would take me at least ten times that long. I guess I should start cutting up some chickens if I want to cut down on my time. And a question about your knife – how do you sharpen it?

    A long distance book club would be amazing, sign me up! I read The Dirty Life a while ago and I don’t remember that passage so I think I should pick it up again. There are so many ways to measure success and satisfaction. At least that is what I tell myself as I try to redefine what they mean to me now that I’m home with Alice.

    I’m looking forward to trying this chicken. Recently I’ve been making the Bon Appetit slow roasted chicken ( ) and I definitely think it’s worth a try if you want to change it up.

    Happy Spring!

    • says

      Ooooo, Talley, that chicken looks divine! Definitely trying that one next time around…as much as I love this recipe, we could use a change. And yes re long-distance book club. And I feel you on measuring success while raising a child. I think we put a lot pressure on ourselves to do “more” without acknowledging/giving enough credit to what it means to be at home with a child…deep thoughts :)

      As for the knife sharpening, I really just hone it on my steel. I haven’t truly sharpened my knives on a stone for years, like since I was actually working in a restaurant. There is a guy that sharpens knives at my co-op every Tuesday. I have been meaning to ask him for some tips. Will report back!

  6. A Reader says

    ” We live in the richest country in the world. There is food and shelter and kindness to spare. What in the world is there to be afraid of?”

    I suppose I’ll be the lone voice of dissent, then.

    While the above sentiment is certainly lovely, it represents a world view that I think one can only have when it is filtered through the lens of white privilege or one percentdom. (Yes, I invented that last word.) For most of the rest of us, there is plenty to be afraid of, and for many of our fellow Americans, there is neither food nor shelter nor kindness to go around, much less to spare.

    Well, you did ask.

    And now that I have that off my chest, let me add that the recipe sounds delicious and I absolutely intend to try it.

    • says

      First of all, thank you so much for writing in — dissent is what makes book club exciting, right? I really appreciate your thoughtful comment. I almost didn’t include the second paragraph in the quote because I could see how it wouldn’t sit well with some, namely the people you describe. But I still believe in the spirit of Mark’s quote, and I should have given it more context. In the paragraphs that follow Kristin goes on to describe the moment Mark formulated this opinion, a bike trip he took across country after college when he had little money. During this trip, Mark encountered nothing but good people offering food and shelter and genuine kindness. The anecdotes in the pages that follow capture this generosity. Here is a tidbit: “At the end of his day of travel, Mark would…knock on a farmhouse door and ask if it would be all right to camp somewhere on their place. He was never refused, not once. Nine times out of ten the door would open and the next thing he knew he’s be saying grace with a family at their dinner table, and soon after that he’d find himself tucked into a bed in the guest room. He’d often spend a day or two working at the place…” The passage goes on, but you get the idea. I do understand what you are saying, however, and I am not writing this response to say I’m right. I more just feel Mark’s quote might mean more if it has the context. Thanks again for writing in. Hope you like the chicken!

      • says

        Both of your comments are so fascinating! When I first read the passage, the point made by “A Reader” did not occur to me (perhaps because I am white). While the story of Mark being harbored each night by kind strangers is certainly touching, it is impossible to know if he would have received the same kindness if he had had darker skin. Of course we want to think that the wonderful treatment he received is a testament to human kindness, and I’m sure in some ways it is, it’s just hard to know if that human kindness is part and parcel with white privilege, or something truly universal. I hope, of course, that as a society, our inclinations are moving toward the latter with the passage of time. White privilege (and, I would argue, male privilege) are still forces of great strength in our society, and they are strong forces in part because the world’s most powerful people are often almost completely blind to them. I know many very progressive men who don’t notice the sexism I notice, and I think it’s because they are male; I believe I often don’t notice the benefits I have that come from white privilege, simply because I am white. Trying to open our eyes to advantages like this that we have had since birth is simultaneously disturbing, necessary, and difficult. On the other hand, I think that most of us find that noticing ways in which we are unfairly DISadvantaged almost unavoidable, which leads to a wide dichotomy of viewpoints between those raised with many unseen privileges and those raised with many painfully salient disadvantages. For me, Peggy McIntosh’s article on white privilege has been very seminal, and every time I revisit it, I’m glad I did:

  7. Trish says

    Looks beautiful (and delicious)! I love to try new recipes for roast chicken. They fall into the same category, for me, as chocolate chip cookies, brownies and cinnamon rolls. Even though I have my favorites it never hurts to try new things. It’s like the passage you quoted. So what if I fail? I am trying something new, it matters to me and it makes me happy!
    Thank you for sharing!

    • says

      So true, Trish. There is always something to be learned from trying something new. It is SO hard to resist trying that next/greatest chocolate chip cookie recipe. xo

      • Trish says

        Made this for dinner tonight and it was delicious! You are right–even the breast is juicy. The sauce really adds a lot to this dish. So fresh and delicious with basil from my garden. Thank you for sharing this recipe!

        • says

          Trish, you are amazing! Basil right from the garden? I am so envious. We just got our raised bed going, but I want to build another smaller one just for herbs. So happy you liked the chicken. Hope you are well! xo

  8. Donna says

    Wow this looks amazing and the photography is mouth watering as always. Can’t wait to try this .

    • says

      Crystal, this is exactly what my grandmother used to do. Where did you learn that method? It’s such a great way to ensure the bird is totally dry.

    • says

      Well, I do love the Zuni roasting method, but there is something about this method of roasting that I almost prefer — when the pieces have all that room to themselves, for the air to circulate around them, they crisp up so nicely. And as much as I LOVE the whole Zuni recipe, this is much simpler. I have in fact been doing a modified Zuni recipe by throwing cubes of olive oil-toasted bread on the platter with the mustard greens. The pieces soak up the juices so nicely.

  9. says

    That sounded fishy to me, too! I am not particularly daring and I like things to be safe….. loved his response, “what in the world do we have to be afraid of?” Thank you for sharing that passage and for sharing the wonderful chicken method! The way you’ve described mustard greens has me antsy for some, soon. I just bought chicken thighs for your tinga tacos but this dish is now in the queue as well! Cheers!

  10. Ron Rodrigues says

    And here I am at the airport, waiting for my flight to depart, salivating at that amazing dish. I’ve added it to my checklist of great, simple things to make on a weeknight. By the way, that was great photography too!

  11. says

    My friend just finished that book. Solvent sounds good to me. Been close to the other times in my past and I don’t like it. But ‘going for it’ has to go beyond the fear of not being solvent. So it is a conundrum. Balance between the two is my answer. Great instructions by the way. The photo of the finished product when you cut it made me a believer that this recipe works!

  12. judy says

    I made the chicken last night and we loved it. It didn’t get nearly as
    brown or crispy as yours. Any thoughts?
    As always, love your food photos!

    • says

      Hi Judy! Sorry for the delay here. Glad you liked the chicken. A few thoughts: did you let it sit at room temperature for an hour? I’ve found that when I skip this step, the chicken doesn’t get nearly as brown. And two: Did you cook it in the upper third of your oven? Also, do you have an oven thermometer? Every oven is different, and I find that having an oven thermometer helps me see how accurate/inaccurate my oven is. You could also try the convection setting on your oven if you have one, though it didn’t seem to make a difference on mine.

  13. Laurie says

    She says at the end of the book “underlying soil is bedrock and if you dig deep enough you’ll hit it”. To me this book beautifully traces a brief moment in someone else’s life that transcends race and privelege. It’s not about having something that only few are born to, it’s about understanding the deeper value of letting go of fear and embracing what is beautiful about a life filled with uncertainty; loss and grace…there is little in life more satisfying than growing food and then lovingly and simply feeding other human beings with it.

  14. Nancy says

    I read that book a couple of months ago for a book club. I loved it and found myself thinking about the book when I was planting my first veggie garden recently. I’m not nearly as courageous (or ambitious) as Mark and Kristin, but I’m going to try to grow a few things. The chicken looks delicious. I may have to give it a try soon.

    • says

      Nancy, hieee! So fun to see you here. I am not as courageous either — am overwhelmed by my one raised bed — but I believe in baby steps, right? Definitely try the chicken — it’s so good! Hope to see you soon.

  15. Shani says

    Just to let you know, I made this over the weekend and it was sensational. I spatchcocked a chicken and had to stop myself from devouring the entire thing on my own.

    I made it with parsley this time, but am looking forward to making it again with different herbs.

  16. Tammy says

    Hi, Clementines are out of season here. What would you suggest other than waiting until they are in season. Thank you in advance for your reply.

    • says

      Hi Tammy! Sorry for the delay here! Are you talking about the Jerusalem chicken recipe? I think you must be. Hmm, this is tricky because we’re sort of in between seasons here. Maybe grapes? Or just omitting the clementines altogether?

  17. AnnieB says

    Thank you so much for sharing, I’m a sucker for crispy skin chicken mm-mm! However, before I try this lovely recipe, would anything change if I only use thighs instead of quarters? Cooking time or spices? I prefer dark meat to white. Thanks a lot!

    • says

      Sorry for the delay here! I wouldn’t change anything if you only use thighs, and I think that is a fantastic idea — I prefer thighs/dark meat as well. Hope it turns out well!

  18. anne says

    I’ve made this twice now and its amazing! Did it with chicken quarters because it was for 2 people but used the recipe as written other than this. The sauce is soooo good, this would be great for a dinner party, impressive taste but so easy to make!

  19. Michelle says

    I tried this recipe a couple of days ago… Awesome! I went back for seconds, and I don’t typically do that, this recipe is that good. I’m afraid I’m spoiled to having chicken any other way.

    I’m making it again right now as we speak! Thanks for sharing.

  20. says

    This chicken looks FANTASTIC. I’m so excited to make this tonight for Easter! Also, THANK YOU for making this video! You’ve inspired me to start brainstorming videos to add to my own blog as well! They’re SO helpful!

  21. Kelly says

    Stumbled upon this recipe about a month ago and have made it twice since then. So amazing! Thank you for teaching me how to quarter a chicken and how to make moist roasted bird! And the sauce, unbelievably yummy with parsley OR basil.

  22. Mary Christine says

    Found this recipe this afternoon, stopped at the grocery store on my way home from work, came home and made it. SO good. I’ll make it again, but not on a weeknight!

  23. keke says

    I made this dish with white rice and instead of red wine vinager, basil or parsley, I used cilantro and rice wine vinager. Because that’s what I had on hand. The chicken skin was delicious and very crispy and the leg quarters were so juicy! My mother in-law complimented on the skin being so crispy. Needless to say my fiancé loved it. He ate without saying a word until it was all gone !)

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