Engagement Chicken: it's part recipe, part sorcery; both a dish and a mating ritual. The idea is that you stuff a whole chicken with lemons, cover it in butter, pop it in the oven, and when you serve it to your boyfriend, he whips out a ring and promises you forever. When you put it that way—picturing an apron-clad lady slaving away in the kitchen to get that coveted diamond ring—it brings on cringy thoughts of rigid gender roles. Either that, or a scene from Hocus Pocus.
But the basic concept is pure: cooking a delicious, special meal for the person you love should make them feel all tingly inside (and hopefully not because you undercooked the bird). That's how the idea began back in the '80s, when Glamour magazine fashion editor Kim Bonnell gave the recipe to her assistant, Kathy Suder, who was lamenting about not knowing what to cook when she had her boyfriend over for dinner. The proposal that came for Suder shortly thereafter was just a plus.
"I'd often overhear assistants worryingly discuss what to cook for the boyfriend-coming-over-for-dinner moment in their romances," Bonnell recalled years later. She had done some tweaking to a favorite Marcella Hazan lemon roast chicken recipe, shortening the cooking time, adding lemon juice, and cutting down on prep. She lent the new and improved instructions for Suder's romantic meal. Even with the edits, it was still just a simple roast chicken recipe. Nonetheless, Suder's chicken-fueled proposal quickly led to others on staff...
"Maybe not that very night but with unmistakably related-to-chicken timing," Bonnell said. "With an eerie predictability, women became engaged to the men for whom they prepared this chicken. Voila: Engagement Chicken." Insert fairy dust here.
Glamour ran the recipe under that name in 2004, and readers latched onto the magic—then commented online with stories of their own lemon chicken engagements, even as other women criticized the idea as simply preposterous.
To be fair, you don't brush the bird with a rabbit's foot or garnish with four-leaf clover (instead, brush with butter, garnish with thyme), but the magic is, presumably, in the act of cooking a great, seemingly fancy meal for the one you love. While the initial idea of engagement chicken was that a woman cooks it for a man and then he proposes, this plan still isn't half bad if we update it to include the many different ways two people decide to spend forever together.
For any man who knows how to operate an oven (these men exist in droves, we promise), this fool-proof recipe could easily make a special guy or gal swoon and drop to their knees and just decide to propose since they're already down there. Or maybe this is the recipe you make the first time you partner's family comes by for dinner. Woo the parents with poultry then ask for your partner's hand in marriage—not because permission is needed, but because your spouse-to-be is close with their parents. And all parents want their child to marry someone who can cook a delicious chicken with crispy skin, of course.
Now that we've clarified who cooks chicken for whom and whose responsibility (privilege?) it is to propose, here's the real truth about Engagement Chicken: whoever cooks it likely won't get a ring that same night; whoever eats it hopefully has a million and one non-poultry-related reasons for proposing; and what's most important is the act of cooking a special meal for your partner. We've never heard of Engagement Roast Tofu, but vegans pop the question every day—it's the thought that counts.
If you're still determined to find the way to your partner's ring finger through their stomach, we'll leave you with recipes for the best engagement chicken variations we could find—just in case your future spouse doesn't know how to take a hint.
The OG Engagement Chicken Recipe
Kim Bonnell's Engagement Chicken only calls for five ingredients, one of which is the garnish (although some readers have reported sticking those herbs in with the lemons for added flavor). Apparently the beauty of this bird is the crisp skin courtesy of brushed-on butter, and the juiciness of the meat, which comes from the pricked citrus stuffed inside.
Courtesy of Glamour | Serves 2 to 4
- 1 whole chicken (approximately 4 pounds)
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, plus 3 whole lemons—including 1 sliced for garnish
- tablespoon kosher or coarse sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- Fresh herbs for garnish (4 rosemary sprigs, 4 sage sprigs, 8 thyme sprigs, and 1 bunch fl at-leaf parsley)
- Position an oven rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F. Remove the giblets from the chicken, wash the chicken inside and out with cold water, then let the chicken drain, cavity down, in a colander for 2 minutes.
- Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Place the chicken breast-side down in a medium roasting pan fi tted with a rack and pour the lemon juice all over the chicken, both inside and out. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper inside and out.
- Prick 2 whole lemons three times each in three different places with a fork and place them deep inside the cavity. Chicken cavity size may vary, so if one lemon is partly sticking out, that's fine. (Tip: If the lemons are stiff, roll them on the countertop with your palm before pricking to get the juices flowing.)
- Put the chicken in the oven, lower the oven temperature to 350°F, and roast, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
- Remove the roasting pan from the oven. Using tongs or two wooden spoons, turn the chicken breast- side up. Insert a meat thermometer in the thigh, and return the chicken to the oven and roast for about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the meat thermometer reads 180°F and the juices run clear when the thigh is pricked with a fork. Continue roasting if necessary. Keep in mind that cooking times in different ovens vary; roasting a chicken at 350°F takes approximately 18-20 minutes per pound, plus an additional 15 minutes.
- Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before carving. And here's the secret: Pour the juices from the roasting pan on top of the sliced chicken— this is the "marry me juice." Garnish with fresh herbs and lemon slices.
Ina Garten's Engagement Roast Chicken
Not to knock Bonnell's recipe, which has led to many proposals, but who are we to ignore the fact that the Barefoot Contessa herself developed her own version? For an amped up sauce, she calls for dry white wine, flour, chicken stock, and two unexpected ingredients: garlic and onions. While we might let slide the sweet, Spanish variety of onions she uses—especially because they're cooked down—we usually wouldn't recommend garlic for a romantic meal, so what gives? She stuffs the garlic inside the bird so that you get all the flavor with much less of the dragon breath (we can't make any promises, though). Garten also swaps out the butter for "good olive oil"—but if you're gonna use some cheap-o brand, don't even bother.
Recipe via Food Network | Serves 3
- 1 (4 to 50 pound) roasting chicken
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 lemons
- 1 whole head garlic, cut in 1/2 crosswise
- Good olive oil
- 2 Spanish onions, peeled and thickly sliced
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
- Remove and discard the chicken giblets. Pat the outside dry. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Cut the lemons in quarters, place 2 quarters in the chicken along with the garlic and reserve the rest of the lemons. Brush the outside of the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle the chicken liberally with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Place the chicken in a small (11 by 14-inch) roasting pan. (If the pan is too large, the onions will burn.) Place the reserved lemons and the sliced onions in a large bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Pour the mixture around the chicken in the pan.
- Roast the chicken for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and a thigh. Remove the chicken to a platter, cover with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for 10 minutes while you prepare the sauce, leaving the lemons and onions in the pan.
- Place the pan on top of the stove and turn the heat to medium-high. Add the wine and stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up the brown bits. Add the stock and sprinkle on the flour, stirring constantly for a minute, until the sauce thickens. Add any juices that collect under the chicken. Carve the chicken onto a platter and serve with the lemons, onions, and warm sauce.
Ayesha Curry's First Meal for Steph
Okay this is a tricky one—we don't have the exact cooking instructions (or measurements) for this, but Curry did give us an exclusive, in which she told us all about the first meal she cooked for Steph.
"I was 19. I was a baby. It was at my home. My parents were gone and surprisingly let me have him over, which was a big deal for me—to have a boy over," she told Brides. "I did chicken with this seasoning that his dad used all the time at his house. Since this was my first time cooking for him, I was like, 'Whoa, I better draw on a staple. If he likes his dad’s food, then I’ll use this on mine.' So it’s this stuff called 'Southern seasoning' and I still use it to this day. On the label it says like, 'salt, garlic, pepper, charcoal, and "other spices."' They don’t give the secrets away. But I just basically smothered the chicken in butter and that seasoning and roasted it off. And we’re married now, so…"
Our recommendation? Try swapping in the Southern seasoning (available here) or your S.O.'s favorite seasoning mix for the salt, pepper, and lemons in the original recipe above. Instead of covering the bird in lemon juice, brush inside and out with melted butter, then season and roast away. You'll still get the crispy skin, but with a different flavor—perhaps one that can pull a championship-winning athlete?
Get Yo' Man Chicken
If you've already made enough roast chicken for your partner (or you're missing the rack-fitted roasting pan needed for a full bird), never fear: Get Yo' Man Chicken is the recipe for you. It calls for chicken thighs—undoubtedly the hardest chicken part to overcook, which ups your chances of serving something deliciously juicy. Like the variation by their Food Network friend Ina Garten, this recipe by Pat and Gina Neely calls for sliced onions. But the keys to the tomato-based sauce in this recipe are the lemon pepper, rosemary, and thyme—that unexpected combo will have your soon-to-propose S.O. licking the spoon.
Recipe via Food Network | Serves 4 to 6
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 chicken thighs, skinless
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1/2 cup white wine
- One 14/5-ounce can crushed tomatoes in thick puree
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 tablespoon dried rosemary
- 1 tablespoon lemon-pepper
- Hot butter rice
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
- Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat.
- Pat chicken dry with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper. Brown the chicken, meat-side down first, and turning once, about 4 minutes on each side. Transfer to a plate to reserve.
- Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of oil from the pan.
- Add onion to the pan and sauté until tender, roughly 3 minutes. Add the stock and wine and stir, scrapping any brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Turn heat to high and reduce by half, about 3 minutes. Pour in the crushed tomatoes and add the dried herbs and lemon pepper. Add the chicken thighs back into the pan.Cover and cook on medium-low heat for 40 minutes.
- Remove chicken from liquid and serve on hot buttered rice. Ladle the sauce on top and garnish with fresh chopped parsley.