Kathy’s Engagement Chicken

We met our friend Timothy when he had the illustrious position as the director of the National Gallery of Victoria, located in Melbourne, Australia.  At that time, in 1996, I thought Timothy was smart, sophisticated and suave.  The art world obviously thought well of him too because Timothy left Australia in 1998 to take the helm of the Kimbell Art Museum in Texas, followed by the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England.  And in 2013 we crossed paths again when Timothy had settled into his position in Los Angeles as director of the J. Paul Getty Museum.


The Getty is documented in the press as being the world’s wealthiest art institution, making Timothy’s position as director one of the most prestigious amongst art communities worldwide.  If Timothy was smart, sophisticated and suave 17 years prior, I wasn’t sure what words I would use to describe him now that he had reached this new pinnacle of success and power.  Following our fun and festive reunion dinner, ending with Timothy driving Hubby and I home with me folded up in the “back seat” of his tiny European sports car, the description was clear in my mind.  He was just Tim.

Our friendship rekindled, Tim accepted an invitation to join us in Santa Barbara for a weekend, bringing his long-time girlfriend Kathy to join us.  As conversation tends to do in our household, it eventually worked it’s way to food, recipes and memories.  Hubby mentioned that I was documenting our food stories on my blog and Tim promptly volunteered that Kathy had a memorable recipe to share.  Memorable was an understatement.

Photograph from Kathy's upcoming "Underground" exhibit.

Photograph from Kathy’s upcoming “Underground” exhibit.

Kathy is a talented photographer with a new book of subway portraits called Underground and an exhibit opening at the Amon Carter Museum of Art on March 15th. (If you are in Texas, go see it!) Kathy made a name for herself with her 2004 exhibit Knockout, capturing the beauty of boxing in photographs and receiving international acclaim for her oversized color close-ups.  But Kathy was not just making news for her photography.

Years prior, as a young assistant at Glamour Magazine, Kathy made a chicken dish for her then-boyfriend who, shortly after, proposed.  As the story goes, that night of the chicken dinner, he thought “This is a meal your wife would make.”  Kathy passed the recipe around the office and the story repeated itself with other engagements.  Years later one of Kathy’s friends at Glamour remembered the story when researching an article.  She called Kathy for details and Glamour ran the story, publishing the recipe for “Engagement Chicken”.  

Kathy described what happened next as a classic case of something going “viral.”  Apparently the chicken worked.  Scores of women wrote to Glamour recounting upcoming nuptials, giving credit to the chicken.  Kathy’s name was  suddenly making the rounds on talk shows, in newspapers, in magazines and online, as everyone mused about the myth of Engagement Chicken.  Even Howard Stern was talking about it.

You know where this is going.  I had the recipe in my hands before Tim and Kathy left my house the next morning.  There is nothing tricky or deceptive about it; it is simple and it is delicious.  But just to be safe, I haven’t served it to any unwed couples.  Proceed with caution.


“Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate.” -Alan D. Wolfelt


Kathy’s Engagement Chicken

1 whole chicken (approximately 4 pounds)
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, plus 3 whole lemons—including 1 sliced for garnish
1 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 flat-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.

Credit:  Glamour Magazine




  1. YAY so happy to have the recipe at last… and super happy to have been at this wonderful dinner and in on the conversation – and revelation – about the Engagement Chicken. Thank you Kathy and Cynthia. Oh and PS – if you will put lemons in the microwave for 30 to 60 seconds, they will be soooooo juicy and soft. One a my favorite tricks.


  2. And so glad you were there to join us Frances! xo


  3. […] published and became something of a national sensation. Find the recipe and rest of the story here, on The Water Is Smiling. Just be careful whom you serve it to. I don’t think it’s an Iowa […]


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