The first time I made this was when I was having a certain special gentleman over for dinner for the first time. I went to Cumbrae's (my butcher) and was talking to the person behind the counter about how I wanted something that was both fancier than chicken legs and less prone to drying out than chicken breasts. And then I caught sight of the whole chickens. I decided that roasting a chicken couldn't be that hard, and it wasn't. Don't get me wrong; this is not a thirty minute meal and the cleanup can be intensive. But, all things considered, the work is absolutely worth the final product.
3 or 4 lb. chicken
1/4 to 1/3 cup (ish) cold, unsalted butter
1/4 or 1/2 a lemon
1/2 an onion
freshly cracked sea salt and black pepper
A few generous splashes of olive oil
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Rinse your chicken with cold water (inside and out) and place on a large plate. Pat dry with paper towels. Wash your sink.
Cut the pieces of butter into little pats and slide the pieces under the skin so that they are distributed evenly. You don't want an outrageous amount of butter, obviously, but this will help keep the chicken moist. If you felt like getting ambitious, you could mix the butter with some herbs or roasted garlic. I've heard that olive oil is a suitable (and healthier) alternative.
Thoroughly salt and pepper the outside and inside of the chicken. This is pretty crucial. I typically don't like adding much salt to anything, and the first time I made this I skimped on the salt (skipping the inside of the chicken entirely). It was a mistake. For this kind of a meal, you just have to embrace the salt.
To the cavity inside the chicken, add the sprigs of thyme and then as much onion and lemon as you can fit. Then, using some string or kitchen twine, truss your chicken (pulling the wings and legs close to the main body so they all cook in the same amount of time). There are a few ways to do it, but here's one video that's helpful.
Place the chicken in your roasting pan. You don't need one of the big, lidded pans that get used at Thanksgiving; just anything with higher sides will do. Ideally, you'll have some sort of tray to put in the bottom that will lift the chicken up out of the juices, but it's not the end of the world if you don't. (I don't have one but will probably invest in one someday.) Slosh some olive oil over the top, and toss any leftover onion pieces into the bottom of the pan.
If you felt like roasting any root vegetables for your meal, this would be the time to add them. Carrots, parboiled potatoes, turnips, s'all good.
Roast for approximately an hour and a half, or until your meat thermometer says it's safe. The joints should feel loose, and don't be afraid to cut into the breast meat to see if it looks like it's cooked enough. Pull the chicken out three or four times for basting. When it's done, pull it out of the pan and let it rest for fifteen minutes, covering with foil to keep it warm. Serve with some of the juices spooned on top. Finito!
If you're interested, the carcass can be used to make your own chicken broth, which would be pretty awesome to have in the freezer.