The River Cottage Roast Chicken

My go-to roast chicken recipe, that one from Chez Panisse (here’s a video I made on how to make it), is such a gut bomb of fat–and fat from just the chicken itself–that any roast chicken recipe that requires the addition of more fat (butter, olive oil) usually provokes my inner Richard Simmons who bursts out in short shorts and says, “You don’t need all that fat you fat fat fatty!”

Sometimes, though, you want to gild the lily and such was the case last week when it was time to make our weekly roast chicken (it’s pretty much a staple) and I was craving something new. A few days earlier, I’d flipped through the River Cottage Meat Book—

—and memorized the recipe for the River Cottage Roast Chicken. It was simple enough–herbs + garlic + butter rubbed all over the chicken–though it violated my fat fat fatty rule of not adding extra fat. Still, one must try new things, mustn’t one? (Please read that last sentence with a British accent.)

The result was dyn-o-mite. Seriously: the butter and the herbs and the garlic penetrated the skin in a powerful way, making it almost too decadent for a weekday night, yet still homey and comforting. This is the chicken to make when you want to experience restaurant-quality roast chicken at home: it’s the kind of thing you’d pay a lot of money for out on the town, but in your own kithcen it’ll cost you between $15 and $20 and it’ll feed two of you.

How do you make it?

Here’s how:

The River Cottage Roast Chicken

by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

adapted by me

1. Buy a 3 to 4 pound chicken*. Pat it dry with paper towels—no need to wash it. (Oh, but remove the guts first, that’s important. Usually the guts come in a little bag.)

* NOTE: Look for the best chicken you can at the store: organic, free-range, etc. It makes a big difference. (I recently switched from Bell & Evans to Smart Chicken because the latter is free-range and Craig commented that it tasted better without knowing it was a different kind of bird. Just saying!)

2. Soften 7 Tbs of butter (leave it out for an hour or two.)

3. Cut up lots of rosemary and garlic and sage together until it’s fine, fine, fine. (About 3 cloves garlic, 3 branches rosemary (off the stem) and 5 to 6 leaves of sage.

4. Mash up the garlic, rosemary, and sage into the butter using a fork. Add salt and pepper too.

5. Now shmear that all over the chicken, getting it on the back side, the legs, the thighs, in the cavity, and ESPECIALLY all over and under the breast. When I say under the breast, I mean make a little flap in the breast skin using your finger and shove some of the butter under there. You’ll thank me later.

6. If you’re a salty person (and I definitely am) sprinkle some more salt over the chicken. Also grind some more pepper.

7. Pop into a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. (I put mine in a cast iron skillet, but you can use a roasting pan.) Then lower the heat to 350 and cook another 30 to 40 minutes until it’s golden brown and it smells beautiful. Finally, turn off the heat, open the oven door and leave it like that to rest for another 20 minutes (this is a technique from the book, and I think it makes good sense–so the chicken comes to temperature more gradually.)

And that’s it! Look how pretty:


Oh and what’s that bit you see on the cutting board on the right? That’s one of Ina Garten’s Dill Fingerling Potatoes, recipe here, picture here:


It’s a lovey riff on a classic dinner: chicken and potatoes, Variation #33,825.


Give it a whirl and make the Richard Simmons in your head very, very mad.

31 thoughts on “The River Cottage Roast Chicken”

  1. this looks awesome. the color is fab and the prep looks quite simple. And, there’s something classic at the chicken in a skillet look, no.

    I made this a while back – – Roasted Chicken with Onion and Lemon Herb gravy. The trick was to break down the chicken and roast skin side down the entire time, flipping the pieces only during the resting period (though leaving them in the pan).

    Turned out fabulous. I’m going to have to try it.

    Tonight, I’m using Thomas Keller’s method

    Let’s hope it works and doesn’t kill my oven.

  2. Just when I thought I had roast chicken dialed in, you have convinced me to give this a try. Looks fabulous!

    I like your cast iron pan idea– have you ever used a large deep enameled cast iron casserol

    e? The deep sides may keep the heat more

    even around the bird.

    (PS on my Mac, the text entry box for your comments is wider than the center column

    dimension, obscuring text. It makes commenting kind of awkward.)

  3. Sounds amazing! And fairly similar to Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s recipe, only his involves brining (I am also a salt person, so I like this step) and instead of rubbing the butter/garlic/herb mixture over the chicken, you stuff it all inside and baste. He also cheats by searing the outside of the bird first, which is more effort but ends up taking less time all told. I think I might try your more hands off approach! Thanks for posting.

  4. I just picked up a small chicken to make lemon roast chicken but I think I will do this instead. Perfect timing.

  5. The River Cottage Meat Book is an awesome resource. A great hunk of a book, well written and packed with stacks of top quality recipes.

    I’ve used HFW’s chicken recipe for a while now, and it’s brilliant in it’s simplicity.

    Butter helps, but the quality of the chicken really makes the difference.

  6. Seven tablespoons of butter does set off the Simmons meter, doesn’t it? But that chicken & potato combo looks incredible, I’m totally trying it.

  7. That chicken looks incredibly good – though I have to say, based on your pics and videos here, only by seriously anorexic standards would anyone think you should even worry about your weight, let alone listen to the Richard Simmons voice!

  8. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is one of my all-time food heroes, and his Meat book is awesome. Anyone who’s brave enough to write about the ethics and philosophy of eating meat in a recipe book deserves a big thumbs up. Plus he’s really championing quality local produce over mass-produced supermarket blandness. So I’m really glad to see he’s known, even if only by one person, outside the UK.

  9. Wow that chicken looks so tasty. Ive still never roasted a chicken, i have roast chicken regularly but ive never done the roasting, think i may have to try this and soon

  10. Richard Simmons scares me, but I’m pretty sure that he frightens all sane people. Every time I think of him, I think of the Simpsons episode with the Richard Simmons robot. Yes, I am a dork.

  11. I had a butter phobia for a few years and I am SO glad I got over it, because butter really does improve the flavor of most things.

    I’m hesitant to try any roast chicken other than the Zuni Cafe Recipe, but I may actually have to give this one some serious consideration!

  12. Butter is always a big booster–we have roast chicken all the time, but it doesn’t always come out this well. Will give the butter a whirl. This looks like a perfect dinner.

  13. Oh delicious! And I love making chicken in an iron skillet…makes gravy-making (or wine in the pan simmered for a bit) that much easier. And I made those potatoes the other day and my lord how amazingly good! Throw some mint in instead of dill if you’re looking for a change…such a nice combo!

  14. Have you tried the vertical roasting method (if you are worried about super fatty fatness)? My hubby and I love crispy chicken skin and this is the easiest way to do it, plus you don’t have the chicken wallowing in its own fat. We have a special roasting dish with cross pieces arching up to support the chicken from inside, but I’ve also read (but not tried) recipes for doing the same thing with a beer can (empty, of course) standing up inside the chicken. You can still insert whatever you like under the skin of the chicken to get lots of flavor. We like to drizzle the juice of half a lemon or lime over the outside (makes it even crispier) then place the lemon half inside the chicken on top of the support. Don’t put too many things inside the cavity, as the air needs to circulate through, but a few sprigs of rosemary, for example, will be OK.

    Alternatively, there is another great technique where you lay the chicken on its side on a bed of rosemary (a large springy bed, so you probably need to have your own rosemary bush for this to be economical), roast at high temperature (400) for 20 minutes, turn it on to its other side and roast a further 20 minutes, then finally lay on its back in the traditional post and roast at a normal temperature (350) until done. Again, this keeps the chicken up and in the air. This is from my memory of a Nancy Silverton recipe book (founder of the La Brea Bakery in Los Angeles).

  15. How interesting! I just came home from the outlets with one of those big ol’ Le Creuset oval french ovens, and was thinking, “Gosh, I’d love to try roasting a little bird in here…”


  16. Looks amazing and I love compound butters with chicken especially shoved under the skin.

    So worth the extra racquetball time.

  17. I always toss around the idea of roasting a chicken every week, I think after I heard Wolfgang say that he does. I think it would be a great habit to get into. Then you’d have extra cooked chicken for recipes, plus bones for stock. This sounds like a wonderful way to begin my habit.

  18. I made this last night…perfect. I think I have finally found the temperature/methosd that will work for me and my oven. Thanks!

  19. Oh, and I used a little of the garlic herb butter to mash some skin-on baby yukon potatoes….perfect go-with.

  20. Okay, what am I doing wrong? I made the compound butter, I dried the chicken (well) and when I tried the schmear – I had butter everywhere, except on the chicken. Under the skin on the breast was a breeze, but it all when downhill after that – the butter stuck really well to my hands and not at all to the chicken skin. I end up just throwing it on the chicken (literally) – luckily, I’m a pretty good shot at under 12 inches away…..I’m hoping the end product is worth the struggle….

  21. I made this last Friday and it was indeed over the top with richness. It was very easy to get the butter under the skin. I even got some under the skin of the leg and thigh. I also found it difficult to schmear on the outside. But I persevered. I chickened out and baked it in my trusty enamel lined cast iron gratin pan. This recipe is well worth the effort. I will make this again.

    Very schmaltzy!

    Thanks for the recipe!

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