Roast Chicken Strewn with Thyme Branches


The Relaxed Kitchen

Published by St. Martin's Press

This image courtesy of Christine Schmidhofer

This recipe came about through laziness: the hillside outside my front door in Spain was covered with wild thyme. I couldn’t be bothered to strip the little leaves from the stems so I started throwing handfuls of thyme branches over the chicken while it roasted. The thyme smolders and chars, and at the end you throw it away, but the flavor gently permeates the chicken as it roasts.

Serves4 to 5

Cooking MethodRoasting


Total TimeUnder 2 Hours

Recipe CourseMain Course



  • 1 kosher, natural, organic or free-range chicken, 3 1/2 to 4 pounds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • 3 or 4 small branches or 10 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons cold butter (preferably cultured or European), cut into 2 or 3 pieces, for finishing


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.

  2. Rinse the chicken inside and out with cool water and pat thoroughly dry with paper towels.

  3. Stir together the olive oil, shallot, garlic, parsley, salt, and black pepper to taste.

  4. Place the chicken with its legs toward you and pull away any excess fat from the opening. Gently loosen the skin over the breast and thighs with your fingertips.

  5. Rub the flavoring paste under the skin, massaging it so that it spreads out evenly. Rub more of the paste all over the outside of the bird and place the lemon inside the cavity.

  6. On a rack in a roasting pan, place the chicken on its side and distribute the thyme branches over the top. Roast for 20 minutes, then turn to the other side and roast for 20 minutes more. Keep the thyme branches on the top, even as they char, and baste the chicken with pan juices every 15 minutes if you feel like it.

  7. Turn the chicken breast side up and roast for 40 to 50 minutes more, until the drumstick joint moves easily and the juices run clear. The internal temperature of the thigh meat should be 155°.

  8. Transfer to a warm platter and tent loosely with foil. Spoon off most of the accumulated fat from the roasting pan and add the wine. Reduce, stirring, over high heat until the juices are slightly syrupy. Stir in the cold butter and remove from the heat, whisking until smooth. Carve or quarter the chicken with kitchen shears and drizzle a little sauce over each serving.


Bring the chicken to room temperature for about 20 minutes before cooking. Quarter the lemon and chop the shallot, garlic, and parsley. Measure out the wine and place in a small saucepan to warm (or put in the microwave). Cut the butter into pieces and keep refrigerated until the last minute.


Make garlic croûtes and place one or two on each plate before serving the chicken: Brush crustless slices of rustic country bread with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toast until golden brown and, while still hot, rub firmly with the cut side of a halved clove of garlic. The chicken juices soak into the garlicky bread, with a rather inspiring result.


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