Healthy roasted bird helps to welcome spring

Our spring feasts — often centered around Passover and Easter — typically call for a center-of-the-plate star like brisket or lamb. While delicious, both can seriously ramp up the fat and calories in a meal.

So how about roasted chicken instead? There’s no way to cook a chicken properly without the skin.

Looks like a problem, but here’s a solution: roast the chicken with the skin on, then remove the skin after the chicken is cooked. And, if you roast the chicken my no-fuss way, you’ll find yourself with ample time to devote to the rest of the meal.

I learned the best way to roast a chicken during my restaurant days. Every evening just before service began, the whole staff would sit down for “family meal.” If chicken was on the menu, we’d simply throw several 31/2-pounders into the oven — which was always cranked to 500F — and blast away.

Everything we’d learned in cooking school about the need to truss, turn and baste a roasting chicken turned out to be unnecessary. All we did was sprinkle them with salt and pepper, rub them with a little oil, and roast them at high heat.

Forty minutes later, they were done. We let them rest for 15 minutes, then carved them and moistened the pieces with the juices that had pooled on the platter.

There is, however, one serious caveat when it comes to cooking a chicken at a temperature this high: your oven must be clean. A dirty oven blazing away at 450F will smoke up the whole house. Also, be sure to place the bird in a heavy roasting pan with sides so the chicken juices don’t splatter over the sides,

Finally, the resting time is key. After you pull the bird out of the oven, its juices need time to redistribute.

If you don’t let it rest, but carve it right away, all the juices will come streaming out and you’ll end up with dry meat. Happily, some of those juices pool on the platter during the resting period anyway, and they add a ton of flavor to the sauce.

And these chickens — minus their skin — cry out for a sauce. For that, I took my inspiration from the Italians and their bistecca alla Fiorentina, which is grilled steak finished with extra-virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. I added some fresh herbs and those juices from the bottom of the platter and — Glory be! — The Husband just about forgot to complain about the lack of skin. It was a small but welcome miracle in a season of miracles.

Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks, including “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.”

Simple Roast Chicken With Fresh Herb Sauce

Serves 8. Recipe is by Sara Moulton.

Two 31/2-pound chickens, trimmed of excess fat

Olive oil cooking spray

Salt and ground black pepper

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tbl. chopped fresh thyme

1 tbl. chopped fresh oregano

1. Heat the oven to 450 F.

2. Spray the chickens all over with the cooking spray, then season them with salt and pepper. In a large roasting pan, place the chickens, breast side up, side by side. Roast, uncovered, until a meat thermometer inserted into the leg-thigh joint registers 165 F, about 55 minutes.

3. While the chickens are roasting, in a small bowl whisk the lemon juice with salt and pepper to taste, whisking until the salt is dissolved. Whisk in the olive oil, thyme and oregano, then set aside.

4. When the chickens are done, transfer them to a large platter and cover them loosely with foil. Let them rest for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, pour any drippings from the roasting pan into a fat separator. Add the chicken juices from the fat separator to the herb mixture and discard the fat.

5. After the chicken has rested, remove and discard the skin and cut up the chicken. Whisk the juices from the platter into the herb mixture. Divide the chicken between serving plates and spoon some of the herb mixture over each portion of chicken.

Nutrition information per serving: 290 calories (120 calories from fat = 41 percent of total calories); 13 grams fat (2.5 grams saturated; 0 grams trans fats); 135 milligrams cholesterol; 1 gram carbohydrate (0 grams fiber; 0 grams sugar); 41 grams protein; 390 milligrams sodium.