Mr Neil’s roast chicken

This month’s Kitchen Bootcamp challenge was Chapter 20 of The Professional Chef “Grilling and Broiling, Roasting and Baking”.  I simply could not NOT post the recipe (well, it’s more a method than a recipe per se) for Mr Neil’s famous roast chicken.  For us, roast chicken is a simple staple meal – we have it a couple of times a month and friends are always clamouring for an invite for Mr Neil’s chicken…  A few months ago, for French Fridays with Dorie, when I hosted a dinner party and served M Jacques’ Armagnac chicken, the comment most guests had was that “this is nice but I prefer M Neil’s version.” Ok then. So here we go.  As I said, it’s not really a recipe, it’s more learning what makes a good roast chicken. For us, that means crispy skin and juicy on the inside.

You start with a lovely bed of whatever vegetables you like (sturdy ones like carrots, turnips, parsnips, potatoes and thick cut onions), tossed in a little olive oil with some lemon zest, salt, pepper and herbs. We like thyme with our roast chicken.

Then you clean out the cavity of the bird and stuff it with a couple of lemons, some garlic and more herbs and spices (preferably the same ones you used on the vegetable bed).

Next, you’re going to shove some butter under the skin of the chicken. Yes it looks weird but it will make for a tasty bird. Rub some more butter over the outside of the bird, season with salt and pepper.

Now, place the pan in a pre-heated oven at 450˚F for about 15-20 minutes until the top starts to brown nicely.. It should look something like this…

Then you will lower the heat to about 380˚F and continue to roast the bird for between 60-90 minutes or until the a meat thermometer inserted into the high part of the thigh registers 180˚F . You’ll baste the bird with either the pan juices (this is difficult if the bird is sitting on the vegetable bed) or some melted butter. Because butter really does make everything better.

Once it’s cooked, remove from the oven, cover with foil and allow to rest for about 10 minutes before you carve it. It will be the best roast chicken you’ve tasted.

And of course, don’t forget the most important taste testers when you are carving the bird…

So that’s it. So easy.

But definitely not the best version of this recipe, not by a long shot.  Our good friend Charlotte, who was visiting us from Michigan a few summers ago had the privilege of helping Mr Neil make dinner one night. This dinner.

Later she wrote up her version of the recipe for us. And her mum, Cathy has been very generous in allowing me to share it with you today.

“On Saturday night, I ate a chicken that I made, well, sort of. Mr. Neil and I took two chickens and we sliced up lots of potatoes and onions and we set them on the bottom of the pan and set the chickens on top of the vegetables. Then we took fairly large amounts of butter and stuffed it in the breasts. We put the butter under the skin but not in the chicken cavity. We put a lot of butter in because Mr. Neil said that everything tastes better with butter (and because it makes the skin crispy and the meat moist). Next we stuffed a lime and a lemon in the cavity of the chicken, and then we put lots of garlic in the cavity too. We put some spices – some pepper and salt – in and on the chicken. At some point, we also grabbed chunks of butter and spread it all over the chicken. Then we put it in the oven and let the skin get crispy for fifteen or twenty minutes and then we put it in the oven for its real time, about an hour and a half. Every maybe twenty to twenty-five minutes or so, we spread some warmed up butter (that we melted in a pot) on the outside of the chicken. After it was done, Mr. Neil cut it up and put it on a plate and then we ate it and lots of people enjoyed it. I liked it; it was a little bit spicy to me because I had added a teeny bit too much pepper. (Typist’s note: It was delicious!)”

– Charlotte, (at the time) aged 7.

I don’t know about you but I personally would LOVE a recipe book written like that. I mean, it’s how most of us cook, right?

Speaking of cookbooks, Kitchen Bootcamp is moving onto a new book in May – The New Best Recipe (from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated).  Want to join us working through this fabulous book? Check out the Kitchen Bootcamp page here and buy The New Best Recipe on or

Stand up for REAL FOOD with me on May 19th. Find out how here.

22 thoughts on “Mr Neil’s roast chicken”

  1. Very much a “comfort food”, this. After a most challenging week, making this (CDs generally pumping tunes at medium-plus volume) and sitting down with a glass of wine is most calming.

    From the wine standpoint, there really are lots of options. So you can generally fairly easily go with your natural preferences, or what you’re in the mood for. I would lean away from big bold Australian Shiraz, overly fruity Malbec and Californian Cabernet Sauvignon, though.

    For this particular dinner, I opened my last bottle of Domaine Fichet “La Fraisiere”, a delightful Pinot Noir from the Macon region of Burgundy. (With fond memories of last summer’s visit with Olivier.) Not overly animal, but still with slight nuances of earth, moss, grilled cherries and herbs. A match made in heaven.

    One added note: I add sea salt to the butter melting on the stovetop for the baste…even if it’s salted butter. The larger concentration aids in crisping up the skin. Oh, and those times and temps? Approximate, as you’ll need to adjust for your particular oven , rach height, etc.

    I hope everyone enjoys the chicken!

  2. Ah, finally – the long awaited Mr. Neil chicken.
    Mardi – it looks just as good as you promised it would. Makes me want to go pick up a bottle of New Zealand pinot noir & a chicken on my way home from work tonight 🙂

  3. Finally! Mr. Neil’s famous roast chicken! Looks amazing and I love Charlotte’s recipe. She writes extremely well for a girl her age and I daresay that she has a future both in the kitchen and with books! She’s adorable.

    Just wondering, do you ever put the roasting pan on the grill and cook the chicken that way?

  4. Dear Miss Mardi – I can’t believe that I wrote that! I remember making it and we used A LOT of butter. I think that it’s really nice and I really appreciate it that you put the part about me on your blog. Thank you! I’m excited to see you in London in June, and I’m looking forward to maybe doing some cooking with you. I remember that last time we all had a cooking contest, and that was really fun.

  5. Mr. Neil’s chicken looks surprisingly like the one I make every Sunday. He must be quite a smart man! Somethings don’t need tinkering and a good roasted chicken is one of them, Dorie notwithstanding.

  6. I showed my boyfriend this post and we both agreed that we need to try this recipe. The crispy skin looks really good

  7. Oh, I love everything about this! Roast chicken is one of those fabulous dishes that is always wonderful and doesn’t need a lot of “fancying up”… What a wonderful classic! Thanks so much for sharing this one and submitting it for the Kitchen Bootcamp challenge!


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