Lemon-Rosemary & Balsamic Roast Chicken with Sweet Potatoes



By Cat, Jan 2009 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

While my favorite way to prepare chicken pieces is a braise, in the winter I like to roast chicken to keep my kitchen warm. And I love the way the skin gets golden and crispy.

The flavors of lemon, rosemary and balsamic vinegar are delicious together for a marinade, as in this recipe.

See also: 1. Poultry & Fowl Menu; 2. Roasting a Bird; 3. Brining Chicken; 4. Brining Chart: Salt-to-Water

Roast Chicken with Lemon, Rosemary & Balsamic Marinade

This recipe is adapted from Fine Cooking (1). The original uses breast halves and thighs to serve 4, but I prefer to start with a whole chicken from a local farmer, then I cut it up to use the legs, wings and one of the half-breasts to serve 4. I reserve the other half breast for another use, and freeze the bony pieces for stewing or making stock.

To maximize the juiciness of the meat, I recommend brining. Or, instead of brining, mix the salt with the minced garlic and press to a paste, then rub this onto each piece of chicken before placing in a bowl. Let this rest in the fridge for 6 – 8 hour before tossing in the rest of the marinade ingredients.  However, after testing (see below), I find this alternated method is not as effective as brining.

The original recipe uses light-brown sugar in the marinade, but I use Rapadura unrefined cane sugar; I also used less sugar than in the original recipes, as balsamic vinegar is sweet. I tuck pieces of sweet potato or yam in with the meat pieces while roasting.

Serves 4. NOTE: this recipe takes at least 2 days to prepare, because of the marinade.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • Chicken pieces, bone-in, skin on, from cut-up whole chicken: 1 breast half (halved again, crosswise), 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 wings. Or use 2 Cornish Game hens, halved, bone-in, skin-on. Brined.
  • 2 tsp unrefined sea salt (use only if you don’t brine the meat)
  • 8 ea. 6” sprigs fresh rosemary, plus extra for garnish (optional)
  • 1 large lemon
  • 1 – 2 sweet potatoes, enough for 4 servings (optional)
  • Marinade:
  • 6 large cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp unrefined sea salt, divided (use only if you don’t brine the meat)
  • 5 Tbsp dijon mustard
  • ⅓ cup Rapadura sugar
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ⅓ cup balsamic vinegar
  • reserved juice & grated zest of half-lemon`
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp dried)
  • Equipment 
  • small bowl
  • large bowl or casserole dish, with lid
  • One 10 x 15 or two 7 x 11 Pyrex or ceramic baking dishes


  1. Initial Prep:  Cut up chicken: cut breast into halves, cutting one of the halves in half again, crosswise if it is large (set the other half-breast aside for another use); cut the legs into drumsticks and thighs; and use the wings as they are.  If using game hens, butterfly them (cut them in half through the breast cartilage & bone after roasting).
  2. Brine chicken breast pieces for 30 minutes, or brine butterflied hens for 2 hours. See also Brining Chart: Salt-to-Water .
  3. NOTE: do not include sugar in the brine, as it is included in the marinade. Also, you do not need to salt the brined pieces. After brining, rinse pieces well and pat dry. Game hens benefit from resting overnight in the fridge after brining and rinsing, if you have the time.
  4. Cut lemon in half, lengthwise; grate the zest and squeeze the juice of one half; set aside for marinade. Slice remaining half thinly in half-moons, removing the seeds.
  5. Wait to prep potatoes until just before roasting.
  6. Marinate: Peel & mince garlic; sprinkle with 1 tsp salt and press with blade of knife, to make a paste. Set aside.
  7. Combine remaining marinade ingredients with another 1 tsp salt (skip the salt if you brined the meat) in a small bowl, whisking until thoroughly combined.
  8. Poke 3 – 4 slits in both sides of each chicken piece (or in the top of each game hen’s  breast and legs) with a sharp knife, to help the marinade penetrate. Place in large glass bowl. Add the pressed garlic and toss with the pieces to coat. Add marinade, reserving about ½ cup for later, and toss again – use your hands.
  9. Add rosemary sprigs and lemon slices; toss again. Place bowl in plastic bag, tucking open end of bag under the bowl. Refrigerate 6 to 24 hours.
  10. Roast: Peel sweet potatoes if desired, and cut into 4 – 5 pieces, crosswise. Toss in reserved marinade. Set aside.
  11. Remove marinating chicken from the fridge, and pour into one large or two smaller glass or ceramic baking dishes. Adjust pieces to be skin-side up and evenly spaced. Tuck sweet potato pieces around the meat, then tuck the rosemary sprigs and lemon slices amongst all. If you did not brine, sprinkle a pinch of salt over each piece of chicken and the potatoes. If you did brine, then sprinkle salt only over the potatoes.
  12. Leave on counter to warm 20 – 60 minutes, ensuring it will coat more evenly. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400°F.
  13. Place baking dishes in oven to roast. After 30 minutes, baste the meat and potatoes, and continue to baste every 10 minutes until chicken is very dark brown and looks almost burned, about 1 hour total. Test the temperature of the thigh or use a knife test (it should slide easily into the thigh meat). The pan juices will have reduced significantly, and they may have separated.
  14. Remove pieces of meat and potatoes to serving platter, and tent with foil. Discard rosemary sprigs, but transfer lemon slices to a small bowl and reserve.
  15. Pan Sauce: Important: if liquids in the pan(s) have cooled, cover pan(s) and put back in the oven to warm. Spoon off some of the fat, if desired, but leave as much of the savory juices behind as possible. Add 2 Tbsp hot water (or 1 Tbsp to each of 2 pans). Scrape pan drippings with wooden spoon, then combine into one pan if you used two, or into a saucepan if you need to heat the sauce on stove-top. Keep adding hot water and scraping the pan until you get a slightly thickened, deeply colored, rich-looking sauce. Add more water if flavor is too intense; keep scraping if not flavorful enough.
  16. DO NOT put glass or ceramic pans on hot stove. If you feel you need to heat this sauce, pour it into a saucepan.
  17. To serve: Garnish with reserved lemon slices, and add fresh rosemary sprigs, if desired


11/14-15/2012: After cutting up the chicken into pieces (and each half-breast into halves again because they are so big), I minced the garlic and pressed to pulp with 1 tsp salt. I got way more than the 2 Tbsp pulp called for in the original recipe but that’s OK because I love garlic. OOPS, probably too much salt? Rubbed each piece with this paste, then placed in a bowl in the fridge to sit for 6 hours. Mixed up marinade using another tsp salt. Cut slits in chicken pieces, tossed with most of the marinade (reserved some for sweet potatoes). Placed bowl in plastic bag; returned to fridge for 24 hour rest. Placed roast in oven at 6:30 PM on 11/15. Thigh reached 165°F at 7:45. Result: Very tasty, not too much salt. Sweet potatoes are good addition. Breast was overcooked and would have benefitted from brining; plus all could have roasted 1-hr total instead of 1 hr 15 min.

3/11/2018: Made half-recipe with 1 half breast (cut in half again) and 2 thighs, brined. Forgot to cut slices into the meat before marinating. Did not use any form of added sugar in the marinade because I’m totally avoiding sugar for a few weeks. Otherwise, made as written. Used my larger 6″x8″ rectangular Pyrex baking pan (with lid for storage or marinating in fridge). Into fridge to marinate at 11:30 AM. Removed at 5:00 PM, tucked pieces of sweet potato here and there in the pan (it wasn’t easy- not much room in the small pan around the large chicken pieces) and into 375°F oven to roast at 5:20 PM (pyrex pan suggests not heating above 375). Basted every 15 – 20 min; sweet potatoes are done at 6:45 but meat only up to 150 – 160°F. Removed at 7 PM. Thickened sauce with a bit of tapioca starch, and served. Result: The sweet potatoes and chicken are very good, but I missed the flavor of the sugar. I reheated this on 3/15, and stirred a few drops of liquid stevia extract into the sauce. Much better flavor.


  1. Fine Cooking recipe (finecooking.com/recipes/lemon-rosemary-balsamic-chicken.aspx)

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