How to cook the ultimate roast chicken

Hannah Koelmeyer
21 November, 2013

Stefano de Pieri and Jim McDougall share their recipes for the perfect roast chicken from their cookbook, 'Nuovo Mondo'.

Jim began his cooking career as Stefano’s apprentice. Over the years, their styles have diverged a little. Stefano generally prefers not to over-complicate things, and allow great produce and the traditional techniques of his Italian heritage speak for themselves, whereas Jim has embraced the more innovative and complex methods he has learned working in some of Melbourne’s most acclaimed fine-dining restaurants. Here, they share their different takes on a classic roast chicken. 

Jim’s roast chicken (below, left) uses three techniques – brining, poaching and then roasting – to ensure moist flesh and crispy skin, and must be started a day in advance. Brining the chicken before cooking helps to add flavour and also produces an incredibly tender and juicy roast. Jim explains: ‘Brining uses the principal of osmosis, which roughly means the natural flow of liquids into each other. In a natural and passive environment, salt flavours the meat and the meat naturally flavours the water in a kind of organic equalisation. Brining helps to denature proteins and unravel them, adding to tenderness. The addition of salt and sugar also enables the meat fibres to hold on to moisture as well as seasoning the meat.’ 

Stefano (below, right) takes a much more traditional – and simple – approach, stating that ‘Jim’s chicken is very cheffy. It is not for everyday, which is where I come in.’

ultimate roast chicken

Jim’s perfect roast chicken

1.6 kg whole free-range chicken, legs trussed

1 stick lemongrass, bruised

1 handful thyme

2 sprigs rosemary

1 handful sage

2 lemons, cut in half

1 garlic, cut in half

60 ml olive oil

freshly ground black pepper


245 g salt

130 g sugar

To make the brine, combine the salt and sugar in a large saucepan or similar container with 4 litres water.

Place the chicken in the brine for 3–4 hours.

Heat a large saucepan of lightly salted water over high heat with the lemongrass, thyme, rosemary and half the sage. Bring to the boil. You will need four times the amount of liquid to chicken, so the saucepan must be large enough to hold about 5 litres water and the chicken without overflowing.

Stuff the lemon halves and the garlic into the chicken cavity. Add to the boiling water and return to the boil. Remove from the heat and weigh the chicken down with a plate so it is fully submerged. Cover the saucepan with a lid and leave for 45 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the saucepan and discard the cooking liquid and flavourings. Transfer to an ice bath to chill. Once cool, refrigerate, uncovered, for a few hours or overnight to dry out the skin.

Preheat the oven to 220°C.

Place the chicken in a roasting tin and stuff the remaining sage into the cavity. Rub a little olive oil all over the chicken and season with pepper. (The brine should have sufficiently seasoned the chicken, so there is no need for additional salt.) Roast the chicken in the oven for 15–20 minutes until well coloured. Remove and let the chicken rest for about 10–15 minutes before carving and serving.

Simple roast chicken, the Stefano way

1.6 kg whole free-range chicken

100 g salted butter, softened

12 sage leaves, chopped

1 tbsp rosemary, chopped

3 tbsp preserved lemon, chopped

olive oil, for cooking


6 garlic cloves

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

With a sharp knife, separate the chicken skin from the breasts and the breast-bone (you will notice by inserting your fingers that the skin is still attached to the central bone either side of the breasts).

In a bowl, mix together the butter, sage, rosemary and preserved lemon. Use your fingers to push the butter under the skin and spread it around as evenly as possible – the butter should not be too soft and runny but still hold its shape when pressed onto the skin. Rub the chicken skin with olive oil and season lightly with salt.

Place the chicken on its side in a baking dish. Scatter around the garlic cloves and roast for 20 minutes, then turn the chicken on its other side and roast for another 20 minutes Finally, turn the chicken so it is sitting upright in the tray and cook for a further 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and rest for 10 minutes before carving.

Squeeze the garlic out of its skin and mix with the cooking juices, then pour over the chicken when carved. Apply extra salt if needed, but less is usually more.

For more of Jim and Stefano's recipes, check out their incredible book, Nuovo Mondo.

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