AKA spatchcocking, the fastest way to roast poultry
Looking for comfort food as fall chill arrives? Roast poultry is your pal.
Especially if you butterfly the bird first. It’s the easiest path to the perfect plate: No trussing required and the poultry cooks more quickly. It roasts more evenly too – so both white and dark meat come out properly done and juicy.
So in this season of political rivalry, here’s our platform: A chicken in every oven.
Recipe: Roast Butterflied Chicken (or Turkey)
To butterfly a chicken or turkey, you first need to remove the backbone (poultry shears are handy for this, but a good knife works just as well). Then flatten the bird by pressing on the breastbone with enough force to crack it slightly. This step takes a few minutes, but it’s not hard to do. (You could even ask your butcher to do this for you.)
You can use the backbone and giblets (except for the liver – discard that or reserve it for another use) to make a quick sauce if you want. See the Notes for a discussion on how to do this.
For this post, we’ve roasted a chicken. But the procedure for butterflying and roasting a turkey is identical. The turkey will take longer to cook, though (usually at least 45 minutes more).
We use a sheet pan for roasting butterflied poultry, but you could use any large pan with low sides (you don’t want to use a roasting pan with high sides, because the poultry skin won’t brown and crisp as well). Using a roasting rack is optional – we generally use it for chicken (but often skip it for turkey).
The best source we know for everything roasting related is Molly Stevens’ All About Roasting. Our recipe (and our discussion) is influenced by her cookbook. BTW, if you don’t know Stevens’s work, you may want to make her acquaintance – we think she’s one of the best cookbook authors going.
You may want to dry brine the chicken or turkey a day or so before roasting (see below for more on this). If you go this route, let the salt-rubbed bird rest in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook it.
Prep time for this dish is about 15 minutes (if you dry brine, you can do most of this ahead of time). Roasting the chicken takes about 40 to 50 minutes, depending on size. Then you should let the roasted chicken rest for 15 to 20 minutes before carving and serving.
Leftovers keep for several days if wrapped well and refrigerated.
- one whole chicken (a typical supermarket chicken weighs 3 to 4 pounds, though you may sometimes see “roasting” chickens that weight 5 pounds or a bit more)
- kosher salt (about ½ teaspoon per pound of chicken, or to taste; see Notes)
- freshly ground black pepper (optional, but tasty; 4 to 5 grinds per pound of chicken)
Note on food safety: Raw poultry is notorious for carrying salmonella. And once it gets on a surface in your kitchen, it can spread easily. Although salmonella isn’t as much of a problem as it was a decade or two ago, it’s still a danger. So when handling raw poultry, we suggest wearing disposable gloves. When finished, use a cleaner with bleach to disinfect any surface (including your hands) that might have been in contact with the poultry. Then wash your hands thoroughly to remove any residual bleach from them. Paranoid much? Yeah, we are. But it’s an easy precaution to take.
- You can prep the chicken right before roasting, but you’ll get better flavor if you dry brine it at least 24 hours beforehand (some cookbooks advise dry brining no more than 30 hours for chicken, 48 hours for turkey). So if you want to dry brine, start about a day before you plan to roast the chicken.
- Open the wrapped chicken in the sink (to catch all the juices). Remove the giblets (and the neck, if that’s included in the package) and set them aside if you plan to use them for sauce (see Notes) or discard them.
- Now butterfly the chicken: Position the chicken breast-side down on a cutting board (preferably one you can run through the dishwasher). Using poultry shears or a knife with a heavy, stiff blade, remove the backbone of the chicken. Start at the neck cavity and cut down one side of the backbone through the ribs, ending by the thigh. Then repeat on the other side. Set the backbone aside if using it for sauce (see Notes) or discard it. If you see excess skin around the neck of the chicken, remove it. Now turn the chicken over so the breast side is up. Using the heels of your hands, press down firmly on the breastbone (you may want to put your weight behind this) until the breastbone cracks and you can flatten the body of the chicken (flattening the whole chicken to more or less the same thickness allows it to cook more quickly and uniformly). The joints where the chicken legs and thighs connect (the knees) will face inward. Fold the wings up and tuck them behind the breast (or just leave them flopping around if you prefer). Use paper towels to dry both the skin side and the underside of the chicken.
- Measure the salt and pour it into a small ramekin or bowl. Grind the pepper into the ramekin, then mix the salt and pepper together with your fingers. Spread the salt and pepper evenly on the skin side of the chicken, including the thighs and drumsticks (use about ¼ of it to season the underside, too).
- If you want to roast the chicken right way, proceed with Step 6. If you’re dry brining the chicken ahead of time: Place the chicken on a rack that’s large enough to hold it (you can use a cake-cooling rack). Place the rack in a pan or dish that has sides of at least 1 inch, preferably 2. (You can brine without a rack, but using one allows air to circulate on all sides of the chicken.) Place the raw, salt-rubbed chicken in the refrigerator until you’re ready to roast it (as the chicken rests, the salt will be absorbed into the flesh).
- When ready to roast the chicken: If you have dry brined the chicken, remove it from the refrigerator about 45 minutes ahead of time so it can warm to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F (425 degrees F if using a convection oven). Note that roasting chicken at a high temperature can cause fat to splatter and burn, so make sure your oven is reasonably clean.
- If using a roasting rack: Place a flat rack (one large enough to hold the chicken) on a sheet pan (or another pan with very shallow sides). Place the chicken on the rack, breast side up. Or skip the rack if you don’t want to bother with it. Place the chicken in the oven to roast. Set a timer for 35 minutes.
- When the timer goes off, use an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature of the chicken (insert the thermometer into the thigh of the chicken (don’t let it touch the bone). The chicken must reach a temperature of 165 degrees F to be adequately cooked (see Notes). The chicken probably won’t be done after 35 minutes (it typically takes 45 to 50 minutes), but we always start checking the temperature early in case our oven is running hot.
- When the chicken is done, remove it from the oven. Transfer the roasted chicken to a cutting board (use one with a moat that can collect juices) and let it sit for at least 15 minutes. During this time, you can prepare a quick pan sauce if you wish (see Notes).
- When ready to serve, carve the chicken or cut it into serving pieces. The easiest way to cut into pieces is to slice the chicken in half through the breastbone. Then remove the leg at the joint where the thigh meets the body of the chicken. Cut the drumstick from the thigh if you like. Cut each chicken breast in half lengthwise.
- Plate, serve, and enjoy.
- USDA recommends cooking chicken until it reaches a temperature of 165 degrees F. To measure doneness, check the innermost part of the thigh with an instant-read thermometer (if you want to be extra safe, also check the thickest part of the breast). Make sure you avoid touching bone with the probe of the thermometer. It’s safest to measure doneness by temperature rather than by roasting time because oven temperatures can vary quite a lot.
- As you roast the chicken, it may exude juices that can darken and burn. If you want to use those juices later, add about ½ cup of water to the roasting pan as the chicken cooks to help prevent burning.
- “Dry brining” simply means rubbing the chicken with salt and letting it rest before cooking. You can add black pepper or other spices to the salt if you wish. It’s similar in concept to a barbecue rub.
- The salt used in dry brining seasons the chicken. It also helps draw out moisture, which makes for crisper chicken skin. And a tastier bird.
- When we dry brine chicken, we let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours before roasting (as noted above, some cookbooks recommend not allowing chicken to sit beyond 30 hours). We don’t cover the chicken, but you could drape it loosely with parchment paper or wax paper if you wish (don’t wrap it tightly – you want some air circulation).
- Don’t have 24 hours to spare? Dry brining for even a few hours is worth doing. But if you need to prep the chicken immediately before roasting, just rub it with salt right before you pop it into the oven.
- Speaking of salt, we use kosher salt when cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the crystals are larger and more irregular, so they pack a measure less tightly). If using regular table salt, start with about half the amount we recommend.
- When dry brining, though, we recommend always using kosher salt. Because the crystals are larger, it’s easier to distribute them more evenly.
- BTW, when it comes to dry brining, we’d rather risk using too much salt rather than too little.
- If you want to make a pan sauce to accompany the chicken, here’s how: Add the chicken backbone and giblets (except for the liver – discard that or reserve it for another use) to the roasting pan when cooking the chicken (Step 7). Once the chicken is done, pour the roasting juices into a small saucepan. If there are browned bits stuck to the roasting pan, add a bit of wine or chicken stock, then deglaze by heating the pan on top of the stove and scraping up the bits with a spatula. Add the deglazing wine and browned bits to the saucepan. Bring the pan to a boil, then reduce the contents a bit if you like. Taste and add seasoning if necessary. If the flavor seems too dull, add a bit of lemon juice to brighten it. Serve the sauce with the chicken.
- We should note here that a properly roasted chicken will be plenty juicy on its own. So adding sauce, while nice, isn’t necessary.
- We sometimes roast veggies along with the chicken. If you go that route, the veggies will absorb the chicken juices, so you won’t be able to use them for sauce. Your veggies will taste fantastic, however.
“Wow, dry brining sure adds succulence,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Stupe-hen-dous dish.”
“Yup, this recipe is worth its salt,” I said. “I worked around the cluck on it.”
“You could be egg-spelled for that pun,” said Mrs K R.
“But then you wouldn’t get to enjoy my cocksure commentary,” I said.
“Talk is cheep,” said Mrs K R. “Seconds are better.”
True. Glad Mrs K R isn’t just pecking at her food.
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