Back to school. The onset of fall and cooler weather in some parts of the world. Roast chicken. For me, there is nothing more comforting than a good roast chicken, especially as the days become shorter. It can boost a mood, soothe grief, bring people together, and it's deeply nourishing.
Over the years, I have had many favorite roast chicken recipes. Judy Rodgers, late chef of the Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, created an iconic roast chicken recipe. We loved this Barefoot Contessa roast chicken recipe served over onion and croutons right up until we discovered gluten was trying to kill me. Now, though, I have new roast chicken recipe to love. And I love it because it's flavorful, because it's easy, because I can reasonably make it on a weeknight since it requires little prep and it goes from raw to roasted in one hour, including preparation time. I love it because the skin gets crispy. I love it because it creates up to eight meals. The first night, Brian takes a thigh, and I take a leg and a wing. The next day at lunch, Brian takes the other thigh, and I enjoy the other leg and wing. We shred the remaining meat, mostly from the breasts, and use it in tacos, pastas and soups. We take all the bones and Brian makes a couple of quarts of homemade broth. We use the broth for soups, risotto, rice, lentils, and polenta. Nothing goes to waste.
The secret to this easy roast chicken is that it is a spatchcock chicken. Spatchcock is an English word dating to the early 1800's that means to split open and grill or roast. In this case, we are splitting the chicken open by cutting out the backbone, or having your butcher cut out the backbone, and laying it flat which means it will cook more quickly. I bought myself a nice pair of tough kitchen shears so I could cut out the backbone myself. For a tutorial about how to do it, please watch this video. Note: Do not skewer the chicken the way the chef in the video recommends. It's unnecessary. Remember, you can ask your butcher to do this for you.
My recipe is adapted from one by Arthur Schwartz. He uses fresh garlic, but every time I made it his way, the garlic burned due to roasting at high heat. He calls for using peanut or canola oil and I opt for the healthier choice of olive oil. I also prefer a lower temperature to the 450 F degrees he recommends. His recipe calls for a three to four pound chicken. However, my experience is that U.S. grocery stores seem to only sell whole chickens that are somewhere between four and five pounds so I've taken that into account.
I'm really excited to share this recipe with you since it makes roasting a chicken on a weeknight accessible. Beyond the useful cooking time, it's lick the plate good!
Molly's Spatchcock Chicken
1 whole chicken, 4 to 5 pounds, preferably organic, backbone removed*
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1-2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
*Either remove the backbone yourself using the technique in this video (though, don't skewer it as done in the video) or have your butcher remove the backbone for you.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. If your oven can do 430 F, that's our preferred roasting temperature for this recipe.
Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. Lay the chicken on top of it and press down very firmly with both hands so that the chicken will lay as flat as possible.
Make the spice paste. In a small bowl, combine the paprika, garlic powder, salt, and a couple of grinds of fresh black pepper. Stir. Add in one tablespoon of olive oil. Stir. You want a paste that's not too thick so it will spread easily. You also don't want too thin or it will slide off the chicken. If it seems too thick add another 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. Stir. Judge if you need more. Otherwise, the paste is ready.
Wash your hands and prepare to get a little messy. Rub the spice paste all over the chicken, even using your fingers to gently separate the skin from the meat in some places and rub the paste directly on the meat. When you are done rubbing in the spice paste, your chicken will look like this:
Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Using a sharp knife, break the chicken down into two legs, two thighs, and two wings. Slice the breast meat. Place the chicken pieces on a platter and serve.
Didn't I make that presentation sound wonderful? Here's what really happens in our house: I pace around the chicken as soon as it comes out of the oven. When Brian isn't looking, I'll tear off a piece of crispy skin and burn my tongue as I devour it before Brian notices. Sometimes, I think I was a Labrador retriever in a past life given the way I hover and obsess about food. Roast chicken emerging hot from the oven is one of those times.