I believe one of the most underestimated meals as far as simplicity goes, is The Roast Chicken. It has that delicious, home-cooked quality that smacks of special occasions, yet it couldn't be easier to prepare. And you know what a fan I am of things you can put in a pan and into an oven and walk away from.
This recipe was adapted from a Martha Stewart one and you cannot believe how easy it is, and how perfect it comes out. My only advice is to check the bird every half hour or so, and use a basting brush to spread the pan drippings over the skin each time you do. The result is a less crackly skin and a bird that is more moist.
Perfect Roast Chicken
1 six-pound roasting chicken
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced crosswise 1/2 inch thick
3 large cloves garlic, peeled
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1. Let chicken and 1 tablespoon butter stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 425°. Remove and discard the plastic pop-up timer from chicken if there is one. Remove the giblets and excess fat from the chicken cavity. Rinse chicken inside and out under cold running water. Dry chicken thoroughly with paper towels. Tuck the wing tips under the body. Sprinkle the cavity of the chicken liberally with salt and pepper, and set aside.
2. In the center of a heavy-duty roasting pan, place onion slices in two rows, touching. Place the palm of your hand on top of lemon and, pressing down, roll lemon back and forth several times. This softens the lemon and allows the juice to flow more freely. Pierce entire surface of lemon with a fork. Using the side of a large knife, gently press on garlic cloves to open slightly. Insert garlic cloves, thyme sprigs, and lemon into cavity. Place chicken in pan, on onion slices. Cut about 18 inches of kitchen twine, bring chicken legs forward, cross them, and tie together.
3. Spread the softened butter over entire surface of chicken, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Place in the oven, and roast until skin is deep golden brown and crisp and the juices run clear when pierced, about 1 1/2 hours. When chicken seems done, insert an instant-read thermometer into the breast, then the thigh. The breast temperature should read 180° and the thigh 190°.
4. Remove chicken from oven, and transfer to a cutting board with a well. Let chicken stand 10 to 15 minutes so the juices settle. Untie the legs, and remove and discard garlic, thyme, and lemon. Carve, and serve with mashed potatoes and steamed veggies.