Dairy Free, Mains, Recipes

Lemon, Herb, and Garlic Roast Chicken

May 20, 2013

Although there is a university here, Valley City is not a college town per se. Absent are dingy cafés serving slightly burnt coffee and overly-toasted bagels, sleazy dance clubs, or head shops. We don’t have any interesting ethnic restaurants, or art house movie theaters, or any movie theaters at all actually.

There are a few times of year however when for the few of us involved in university activities feel like, just maybe, we live in a college town. Last week, graduation, gave us reason to celebrate.

Lemon, Herb, and Garlic Roast Chicken

We were invited to a graduation party hosted by two foreign exchange students and a guy from Florida, which for all intents and purposes might as well be considered a foreign exchange student here. I don’t think its a mystery to anyone who is familiar with human nature to understand why a Mongolian, a Ghanan, and a Dominican from the South would be friends here in Little Scandanavia.

Lemon, Herb, and Garlic Roast Chicken

When you’ve made the commitment to leave your family so far behind to study and make something better of your life it is that much more rewarding to achieve your dream. They were proud, like chests puffed out, dressed to the nines proud. And so were their families. Everyone’s parents came, from Mongolia, Ghana, and Florida as well as relatives from all over, Minneapolis, Chicago, and beyond.

Lemon, Herb, and Garlic Roast Chicken

It’s intoxicating all that love and happiness and untapped potential. It took me back to the days before children, and marriage, and career when you had your whole life spread out in front of you like a gigantic blank slate ready to be scribbled over. Life was so freeing back then, all that blankness, you could stretch out your arms and twirl around Sound-of-Music style. Life is just as fulfilling now but in a more nuanced way, your slate gets crowded once the scribbling begins, you don’t have as much room to move around.

Of course the best part for me was the food. Everyone brought their favorite dishes, there were baby back ribs, Ghanan rice and peas, dumplings from Mongolia (literally from Mongolia, his grandmother made them and brought them over on the plane). There was this incredible mouth-igniting coleslaw that was kind of like kimchi but sweeter. There was fried chicken, grilled chicken, and big chunks of juicy pork butt cooked with tons of sweet peppers and garlic. We ate goooooood. It was the best party I’ve been to in four years.

Lemon, Herb, and Garlic Roast Chicken

The next day, still drunk on all that joy, I wanted to make something that symbolizes all the love I have for my family and what says love better than roast chicken? Especially one stuffed with fragrant lemons and fresh herbs. And if you’re making a roast chicken why not make two? Spread the love, invite some friends. Which is what I did, and which is why the photographs show two chickens, while the recipe just calls for one. I appreciate you in advance for your understanding.


Lemon, Herb, and Garlic Roast Chicken

Yield: 4-6


  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 lemons, halved, juiced, and halves reserved
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 4 sprigs basil
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed, unpeeled
  • 1 whole chicken (4-5 pounds)
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil


  1. Combine onion, lemon juice, thyme, basil, and garlic in a roasting pan or large baking dish. Add the chicken and turn to coat on all sides.
  2. Fill the cavity with the lemon halves, herbs, garlic, and as many of the onion slices as possible (the rest of the onion slices can just hang out in the bottom of the roasting pan). Tie the legs together with kitchen twine to keep everything from falling out. If you're not sure how to do this follow this video.  Rub the outside of the chicken with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper.
  3. If you have time refrigerate the chicken uncovered for a couple hours, or better yet, overnight to let the flavors soak in. If not, go ahead and heat the oven to 400°F and arrange the rack in the bottom third of the oven, leave the chicken out at room temperature while the oven heats.
  4. Roast the chicken for about 1 hour 15 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted in the inner thigh reads 165°F. Baste the chicken occasionally during cooking; if the breast gets too brown before the chicken in completely cooked, cover it with a small piece of foil.
  5. Transfer chicken to a cutting board and cover with foil. Let rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.

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