How to Make Nina May’s Four-Star Roast Chicken

You’re going to need a lot of butter.

Roast chicken with lemon at Nina May. Photograph by Scott Suchman

Don’t let the two-day process behind Colin McClimans’s roast chicken deter you. The juicy, crisp-skinned bird he serves at Logan Circle’s Nina May is the best we’ve tried in years. An aromatic brine—plus plenty of butter—keeps the meat moist; an overnight stay in the fridge ensures a crackling exterior. Don’t skimp on the crusty bread. You’ll want to sop up every drop of caramelized chicken jus.

Serves 4

  • 1 3½-pound chicken (local, if possible)
  • 1 gallon water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sage leaves
  • 1 bunch thyme
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • ½ cup salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 shallots, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 pounds potatoes (the smallest you can find)
  • ½ day-old baguette or sourdough
  • 1 cup baby mustard greens (or any tender winter greens)
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon minced parsley
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Two days before you cook the chicken, make the brine. Combine the water, bay leaves, sage, 3 sprigs thyme, peppercorns, ½ cup salt, sugar, shallots, garlic, and juice of 1 lemon in a large pot. Set over low heat and stir until sugar and salt dissolve. Remove from heat and cool completely. Place chicken in a large container or plastic bag and submerge in brine; the chicken should be completely covered. Refrigerate overnight.

Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry. Discard the brine. Slice 1 lemon in half. Stuff ½ lemon, then the bunch of thyme, then the other ½ lemon into the cavity of the chicken. Using your fingers, separate the chicken’s skin from the breast meat. Spread ¼ stick butter under the skin of each breast. Truss the chicken with butcher’s twine. Refrigerate uncovered for 24 hours.

Set the oven to 425 degrees. Spread the potatoes on a sheet tray and place the chicken on top. Season with salt and pepper. Roast 40 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Remove from oven and let rest 20 minutes.

Toss the potatoes with the mustard greens and assemble on a platter. Tear the stale bread into bite-size pieces. Cut the chicken into pieces. Pour any drippings from the pan or cavity into a pot and add the stock. Bring to a boil and, whisking constantly, add ½ stick cold butter. Add the parsley. Pour the jus over the chicken and serve.

This article appears in the March 2020 issue of Washingtonian.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.