Saturday 23 February 2008

roast chicken w lemon & thyme

One of the set of tasks within my 2008 Food Resolutions was to recreate certain food memories and one which is certainly close to my heart was my mother’s roast chicken.

I suppose since my mother died when I was only a young adult I’d never gotten the chance to learn her recipes or even to learn how to cook properly myself.

I’m only glad that I listened carefully when she talked about food and cooking. What had seemed like mum’s general chatter back in those days, has led me to recipes which would otherwise have been lost.

Her roast chicken is just once such dish. She said she’d read a Stephanie Alexander recipe and had been inspired by the flavours. I remembered her using lemon, garlic and thyme and stuffing the lemons into the chicken cavity but I couldn’t remember much more. With the internet I could Google the particular recipe and add my mother’s additions and variations to come up with the roast chicken I had adored.

My little sister, Amy, had memories of this dish too. She remembers mum, during the latter stage of her illness, perched on a stool in the kitchen and shouting orders on how to prepare the dinner. She was only 17 and putting her hand into the raw chicken cavity was a disgusting memory Amy still can’t erase.

I cooked this recipe for my two sisters in a little remembrance dinner one Sunday. We each poked and prodded and checked whether the roast was done. When we took turns carving the meat I was so excited to see that my very first roast chicken came out pink and moist and perfect. I guess mum was guiding me through it too.

Lemon & Thyme Roast Chicken
My mother, Kay’s, recipe. Serves 4.

1 x 1.6kg chicken
2 lemons, cut into slices
3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
Bunch of thyme
Freshly milled salt and pepper for seasoning
Small knob of butter
Olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 180’C.
2. Clean the chicken and pat dry with kitchen paper.
3. Rub a lemon half all over the chicken skin and within the cavity. Do the same with a piece of cut garlic.
4. Stuff the lemons, garlic, thyme and butter in the cavity and more lemons, thyme and garlic between the breast and the skin. The skin should be loose enough to get pieces underneath.
5. Pat salt and pepper over the skin then drizzle with olive oil
6. Put chicken on a roasting rack in a large baking dish. Elevating the chicken means hot air with move underneath it and help even the cooking time.
7. Roast in the oven for 1 hour (fan forced) or 1.5hrs for a regular oven.
8. Chicken is ready when pierced with a skewer and juices run clear or when the drumstick is easily loosened when jiggled.
9. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before carving.
*The trick is to cook the chicken at 180’C for 20-30 minutes for every 500g of chicken (depending on your oven strength).
*If you want to turn the juices into gravy, remove chicken from baking dish and pour juices into a saucepan, removing the fat. Deglaze with white wine and scrap pan to clean and integrate flavours cooked onto the pan.
*You can also add vegetables, such as potatoes and carrots, to the roasting pan and bake together with the chicken.

The name thyme covers a genus (Thymus) of around 350 herbaceous plants and shrubs, native to Europe, North Africa and Asia. The stems are narrow and woody while the leaves are dense and evergreen in most versions.

Thyme has been used for millennia for a variety of different purposes: Ancient Egyptians used it for embalming; Ancient Greeks scented theirs baths and candles with it; Romans used it to flavour cheese and alcohol; and in Medieval Europe it was used to aid sleep and prevent nightmares.

It has been believed to bring courage since the times of Ancient Greece and during the Middle Ages in Europe knights and warriors would receive sprigs as gifts.

It’s essential oil contains 20-55% thymol, which is an antiseptic and apparently the active ingredient in Listerine mouthwash. Previously thymol was used to disinfect bandages; kill foot fungus; treat coughs, bronchitis and throat inflammation; and aid childbirth. Gargling water that has been boiled with thyme can be a useful mouth and throat antiseptic.

Unlike other herbs, thyme retains much of its flavour after being dried and is used widely in the cuisines of Spain, France, Italy, Turkey, Lebanon and the Caribbean. It pairs well with game meat, lamb, chicken, eggs, tomatoes and cream. Thyme is also a feature of famous spice blends such as bouquet garni, herbes de Provence and za'atar.

This is my contribution to Weekend Herb Blogging, of which last week’s recipe also featured thyme. It’s a herb I’ve only recently started to appreciate, so you’ll be seeing quite a few thyme recipes over the coming weeks.

Check out Lia's WHB round-up at Swirling Notions to see what everyone else has been cooking.

References & Photo



  1. That's a pretty thyme patch you got there and that chicken, I can smell the thyme and lemon waft through.

  2. What a lovely post. My own mother died when I was nearly 50 and it still had such an impact on me. I still miss her so much, so I can imagine what it's like to lose your mom when you're a lot younger. I can imagine she would be terribly proud of you. The chicken sounds wonderful and I love the top photo, just looks perfect!

  3. What a lovely ode to your mother, Anna. I'm so glad it turned out so delicious!

  4. Anna, this is a beautiful post. I love the memories you evoke here, and how different the roast chicken experience was for you and your sister. Somehow, roast chicken is just one of those comfort foods that belongs in a home. I'm glad you mastered it!

  5. Anna, what a delicious chicken!

    I lost my mom to cancer when I was 7. She was a great cook and baker and cooking and baking bring me so many memories. It's really wonderful and I feel closer to her when I prepare food.

    Your post is beautiful and so moving!

  6. What a wonderful tribute to your mother. And her chicken looks fabulous!


    P.S. I am suitably envious of your thyme patch.

  7. My favorite way to roast a chicken, also. I love the lemony flavor of the gravy/sauce (yes, I have to make it!)

  8. thanks for all the nice comments everyone. much appreciated.

    but i have to confess that the thyme patch is not mine. i swiped the photo from

  9. Anna - this is the most lovely and simple dish. Hands down the best roast chicken I have ever made! Will most certaintly be making it again.. and again... and again! x


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