I feel like I’m always hearing chefs romanticize the roast chicken – there’s the famous Zuni Cafe roast chicken, Thomas Keller’s “best” roast chicken, and Jamie Oliver’s milk-roasted chicken. But, honestly, I’ve only roasted a few chickens in my life and they were never that impressive. Since chicken isn’t, you know, roast shaped (like an eye of round roast or even a pork shoulder roast, you run into problems.
That is, unless you butterfly, or “spatchcock” the bird. You can read the details in this excellent Serious Eats article, but the short version is: by removing the backbone and flattening the chicken, you get a more evenly-cooked bird in less time. Everyone wins.
Today I decided to “dry brine” the chicken, which is a fancy word for salting ahead of time. To do this, start with a medium chicken, about 4 or 5 pounds. Remove the neck and giblets from the inside of the bird (save the neck for stock, if you’d like).
Then, cut the backbone out. This is hard to describe but easy to illustrate. First, locate the backbone:
Then use some kitchen shears to cut down either side of it:
Remove the backbone completely and open it up like a book. A gross, gross book.
Then, turn it over, tuck the wings back a bit, and rub it all over (front and back) with a bunch of salt and pepper. Use more salt than you think you need. I used at least 2 teaspoons, probably close to a tablespoon. Don’t worry, it will all work out. Place it on a wire rack inside a baking sheet and place in your fridge for 1 – 24 hours.
Uncovered. Again, don’t worry – it will be fine. The point here is for the salt to draw juices out of the chicken and then for the chicken to re-absorb them (I think). This also dries out the skin, which will let it get ultra-crisp later on.
Once you’re ready to bake, crank the oven to 500 degrees, line that baking sheet with foil, and roast the chicken for about 45 minutes, or until the breast meat registers 150 degrees on an instant read thermometer (NB: the USDA recommends cooking chicken breasts to a chalky 165 degrees. I feel fine cooking chicken to 160 degrees. With a large roasted chicken like this, the temperature will come up 5-10 degrees while roasting, putting you in the safe zone for eating. If you’re especially concerned about food safety, you can cook it until the breast is 155 degrees). Let it rest for at least 15 minutes (just enough time to roast some green beans in those chicken drippings!).
I think this tastes great on its own, but Sarah prefers a little gravy with her chicken. Tomorrow I’ll post a recipe for a quick, no-pan-drippings-needed gravy that you can make ahead of time.
Butterflied Roast Chicken with Green Beans
serves at least 4
from Serious Eats
- one 4-5 pound chicken
- kosher salt and pepper (it’s worth using kosher salt for this, even if you don’t normally. It’s cheap, and you can pick some up when you get your chicken)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1-2 pounds green beans, trimmed (optional)
Butterfly the chicken (see photos above). Reserve the neck and back for stock making, if you like. Rub all over with 1-2 teaspoons of salt and at least 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Set chicken on a wire rack inside a foil-lined baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least one hour and up to 24 hours.
When you’re about an hour and a half away from eating, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Place the chicken on a middle rack and roast for about 45 minutes, or until deeply browned and an instant-read temperature inserted in the thickest part of the breast reads 150 degrees. If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, poke a sharp knife in the meat near the leg bone and see if the juices run clear. If they do, you’re good to go.
Remove the pan from the oven. If cooking green beans, place the chicken (still on the wire rack) aside to rest. Pour off all but about 1 tablespoon of the chicken fat from the pan. Place green beans in pan and toss with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Roast until green beans are cooked through, about 10 minutes.
By the time the beans are done, the chicken will be well-rested (even if you aren’t making the green beans, let your chicken rest). Carve and serve with the vegetables.