Sticky, sweet and savory chicken: No fork necessary

By Melissa Clark

One of the things I’m least looking forward to about reentering polite society after our pandemic isolation is having to eat bone-in chicken with a knife and fork.

This past year has involved a blissful disregard of many utensils. We may light the candles and serve wine in crystal glasses, but forks have become purely optional, especially for poultry.

With their built-in handles, drumsticks are just so convenient for picking up and nibbling. I can’t even imagine how to wield a knife around a neck or a wing. Plus, if you’re a cartilage cruncher like me, there’s really no other efficient way to pry off every last tasty morsel. Bone-in meat tastes better, too, with the marrow adding richness as it seeps into the flesh during cooking.

Whether you eat it with silverware or your fingers, one of the best and easiest ways to cook bone-in chicken is to roast marinated pieces spread out on a sheet pan.

The basic method is always the same: Salt the chicken, season it with garlic (nonnegotiable) and any herbs and spices you like, then let it sit for about 30 minutes at room temperature while the oven heats (or refrigerate it for up to 24 hours). Next, lay the pieces on a sheet pan, drizzle with oil, and roast until the skin is burnished, sizzling and gorgeously crisp.

Roasting chicken parts is faster than cooking a whole chicken, and usually a lot more flavorful, since the marinade can thoroughly coat the pieces.

For this recipe, I’ve stirred some honey into the marinade, which adds sweetness and deepens the color of the chicken skin, blistering it mahogany. Rosemary and red-pepper flakes give spice and depth; crumbled feta adds a salty, creamy tang; and thinly sliced lemon lends brightness.

You might wonder whether or not to eat the lemon slices after roasting. This depends on how much sourness you can take as well as what kind of lemon you’ve used. Meyer lemons are a lot gentler than the standard fruit. The honey also helps tame the tartness, so, even acid-avoiders might hazard a bite.

The sticky, schmaltzy, sweet-and-sour drippings on the bottom of the pan are one of this dish’s great joys, so be prepared to sop them up with some bread. Or you can spoon them over rice or potatoes. In those cases, your fork might be just the thing.

Chile-roasted chicken with honey, lemon and feta

Total time: 50 minutes, plus marinating

Yield: 4 servings

3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and drumsticks (to substitute breasts, see Tip)

Salt and black pepper

2 large garlic cloves, finely grated or crushed to a paste

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more for serving

2 fresh rosemary sprigs

1 lemon, preferably a Meyer lemon, thinly sliced and seeded

2 ounces feta, crumbled into large pieces (a heaping 1/2 cup)

Chopped mint, dill or parsley, for serving

1. Season chicken all over with salt and pepper. In a large bowl, mix together garlic, honey, olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes. Add chicken and toss well with your hands, spreading the garlic paste all over the chicken pieces. (Don’t worry if the honey is a little clumpy.) Add rosemary sprigs and lemon slices and toss to combine. Let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes, or up to 8 hours in the refrigerator.

2. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line a sheet pan with a silicone liner or parchment paper.

3. Spread chicken and lemons across a single layer in the lined pan, tucking in the rosemary sprigs. Drizzle oil generously over everything. Roast for 20 minutes.

4. Using tongs, turn over the chicken pieces, and give the lemons a stir. Sprinkle feta on top. Continue to bake for 20 to 25 minutes longer, until the chicken is deeply bronzed and cooked through, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh or drumstick registers 165 degrees. Serve garnished with chopped herbs and more red-pepper flakes, if you like.


To substitute white meat, use bone-in, skin-on breasts and roast them for 25 to 30 minutes. Add the feta at the beginning and do not turn the chicken.

And To Drink...

This mildly spicy dish, with a touch of honey, will go with a lot of different wines. German riesling would be lovely, whether dry, or a moderately sweet kabinett or spätlese style. Dry sauvignon blanc, like a good Sancerre, will complement the herbal and citrus notes. And if you are throwing this together for a convenient weeknight meal, don’t sweat the nuances. Most dry white wines would be delicious, as long as they are not oaky. Note the difference: I don’t mean unoaked. A wine can be aged in oak barrels without the intent of flavoring it. For reds, look for similarly non-oaky bottles. A restrained grenache would go well. So would a cabernet franc from the Loire Valley or a gamay from Beaujolais or elsewhere. For a bubbly treat try a dry, earthy Lambrusco.


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