Heat the oven to 450°F Put the oil or butter in a roasting pan and put it in the oven for a couple of minutes, until the oil is hot or the butter melts. Add the chicken and turn it a couple of times in the fat, leaving it skin side up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and return the pan to the oven.
After the chicken has cooked for 15 minutes, toss about one-quarter of the herb, if you’re using any, over it and turn the pieces. Sprinkle on another quarter of the herb and roast for another 10 minutes.
Turn the chicken over (now skin side up again), add another quarter of the herb, and cook until the chicken is done (you’ll see clear juices if you make a small cut in the meat near the bone), a total of 30 to 40 minutes at most. Garnish with the remaining herb and skim excess fat from the pan juices if necessary; serve, with some of the juices spooned over it.
ROAST CHICKEN PARTS WITH BLACK BEANS VARIATION: First, soak 2 tablespoons fermented black beans in water, sherry, or wine to cover. In place of the butter or olive oil, use peanut oil or a neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn. Mix together 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 2 minced scallions, 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, and 1 teaspoon sugar or honey. Drain the black beans and add them to this mixture; thin it to a paste, if necessary, with a little more soy sauce. In Step 1, spread a little of this mixture all over the raw chicken and put the chicken in the roasting pan; return the pan to the oven. Proceed with Steps 2 and 3, using the soy-based mixture for basting in place of the herb mixture.
MORE VARIATIONS: You can combine these ideas at will; it's hard to go wrong here. Add with the chicken at the beginning of cooking unless otherwise specified. (1) Add a few sprigs of a stronger herb like thyme, sage, oregano, or rosemary. (2) Add several (or many!) cloves of garlic. (3) Add a cup or so of chopped onion, shallot, or leek. (4) Add a cup or so of sliced fresh mushrooms, after the first 15 minutes of roasting. (5) Add a lot of hot dried chiles, a couple of roasted, soaked, and chopped milder chiles, or both. (6) Add 2 or 3 lemons (oranges and limes are good too), cut in half; when the chicken is done, squeeze the hot lemon juice over it. (7) Use peanut oil instead of olive oil and add several slices of ginger and garlic after turning the chicken skin side up again. When chicken is done, drizzle with soy sauce and dark sesame oil, then garnish with scallions and/or cilantro. (8) Use Compound Butter, Flavored Oil, or Vinaigrette from the beginning of the cooking or as a basting sauce during cooking. (9) Rub the chicken with 1/2 cup or so of Pesto or any other herb paste from the beginning of the cooking. (10) Stir in a dollop of grainy French-style mustard when the chicken is done. (11) Add a couple handfuls of cherry tomatoes and some black olives after turning the chicken skin side up again. (12) Stir in a cup of any salsa in the last 10 minutes of cooking or spoon on top of the cooked chicken before serving. (13) Stir a couple tablespoons of any curry powder into a cup of yogurt or coconut milk and spoon or brush it on as a basting sauce during cooking.