A woman known to be a first-rate cook had one idiosyncracy-she always removed the legs from the chickens before cooking them. Finally, one of her dinner guests asked what happened to the drumsticks. The woman explained that this was the proper way to cook a chicken, the only way ta cook a chicken. It was, in fact, the way her dear mother had always cooked chicken and her mother was the best cook in the entire county. The guest was still curius about this and she telephoned the woman's mother and asked her what culinary benefits came from cooking legless chickens. The old woman thought for a moment and said, "Oh, yes, the reason I cut the legs off was that I didn't have a pot big enough for the whole chicken."

In such a way are culinary traditions established. And that's the danger of slavishly following patterns: Whole generations miss out a drumsticks.

The truth is that there is more than one way to roast a bird. Tonight's seasoning, for example, is tarragon, but it could as easily be rosemary or marjoram, thyme or paprika. Different tastes, but the same overall result.

The Staples: Make sure these are all on hand: Salt, pepper, Dijon mustard, lemon, garlic, wine vinegar, olive oil, vegetable oil, eggs, tarragon (either fresh or dried), creme de menthe.

The Shopping List: Three pounds of new potatoes, 2 four-pound roasting chickens; 1/2 pound bacon; 1 head lettuce; 1 bunch watercress; 2 large lemons; 1 small container sour cream; vanilla ice cream.

4:30 p.m: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Rub the juice of a lemon over the two chickens, both inside and out. Inside the roasting chickens you are apt to find a small packet of spare parts (neck, gizzard, liver and so forth). Take this out and set it aside for an other day. But leave the legs on.

Now take a healthy pinch of tarragon and scatter it within the body cavity of each chicken. Sprinkle another pinch over the outside of the birds. Them add a scattering of salt and pepper. Place the two chickens oa a metal rack in a shallow baking pan; the metal rack keeps the birds from getting soggy. Lay the strips of bacon over the chickens, put them into the preheated oven, and lowe the temperature to 350 degrees.

5 p.m: Boil the unpeeled new potatoes in a pot of water for about 10 minutes. Remove them from the heat and allow them to cool off before going back to them. Spoon some of the drippings over the roasting chickens. The bacon will be cooked on one side; turn over the strips but leave them on the birds and return roasting pan to oven.

5:15 p.m.: Rinse the greens-the lettuce, the watercess and any other salad ingredients you care to add - and pat them dry with paper towels.

Now you're ready to make the perfect French Dressing. You can use either a blender or a jar with a tight cap.

Start with a teaspoon of salt and a healthy dose of black pepper, freshly ground if possible. Add 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard, the juice of a large lemon, 4 cloves of finely chopped garlic, 1/4 cup of good wine vinegar, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 cup of vegetable oil, 2 eggs that have been beaten and, finally, the sour cream. Mix. This will be enough for a few salads, and it will keep nicely in the refrigerator.

5:30 p.m.: Back to the chickens. Remove the bacon slices and drain them on paper towels. Break the cooked bacon into small pieces and add them to the salad greens. Put the chickens back in the oven without the bacon and, every 15 minutes or so, baste them with drippings from the bottom of the pan.

5:45 p.m.: The new potatoes should be sufficiently cool now so that the skins will peel away easily. Place the peeled potatoes in the oven with the chickens, allowing the spuds to complete their cooking in the same juicea that you use for basting. When you baste the birds, turn the potatoes over so that they brown evenly on all sides

6:20 p.m.: Test the chickens for doneness. The easiest way to do this is to wiggle one of the legs-if it moves easily in its hip socket, it is well done. A fork should easily pierce the potatoes. And now is the proper time to add the dressing to the salad, tossing the greens to make sure they're all coated. The ice cream will be served later with a dash of creme de menthe.

And now, as you prepare to carve the chickens, you can take requests for drumsticks. There should be precisely four of them.Any more or any less and you haven't been paying attention.