... it's less dirty than it sounds!
While everyone else waxes philosophical on the best ways to target turkeys, we’ve got our eyes on smaller birds for our fall table. Whether for big meals with friends, or a week of idiot-proof leftovers: roasted chicken is the quintessential quick, comforting, fall dinner.
The basic techniques behind cooking small birds and big birds (turkeys, not Sesame Street) alike are the same as with any protein: buy the best you can, start it blazing hot, and season it smartly. But 4lb chickens have a unique advantage over 20lb turkeys: they cook in less time than it takes to kill half a bottle of wine. This is especially true when you Spatchcock.
Considerably less dirty than it sounds, spatchcocking is the act of flattening your bird for quicker, more manageable cooking. With this technique, you cut down either side of the well-thawed bird’s backbone (with kitchen shears or a sharp knife- for a quick visual see here), and lay it flat in your pan. This increases surface area and that helps breasts and thighs cook more evenly,while promoting browning on the skin. This flat, easy to maneuver bird also makes it one million times easier to carve: just hack it into quarters when you’re done and serve like a boss.
Helping to amplify the flavors in the meat, we opt for a dry brine any time we cook chicken. Wet brines are best for turning half of your fridge into a salmonella cesspool. Dry brining takes very little space and delivers even more flavor. Rather than introducing new flavors by pulling in foreign liquids: the dry brining changes the osmotic pressure in the meat’s cells so it better retains its own juices, making it taste more like itself— rather than some watered down chicken stock. Just evenly sprinkle 1 tsp of good sea salt for every 5lbs of bird and let it hang out in a bag (in your fridge, duh) overnight. When you’re ready to eat, give it a quick rinse to help control salinity, pat dry, and roast on top of your favorite aromatics.
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You Will Need
Spatchcocked Chicken, with Lemon and Herbs
Raw Poultry aint nothing to fuck with: Kindly Plan Ahead.
Anything that touches the raw Chicken becomes Hot Lava and, subsequently, turns anything it touches— other than hot soapy water or bleach— into hot lava, too. Ready a zip-top bag, large enough to accommodate your chicken, into a roasting pan. Fold down the top so you can access the bag without touching the outside. Make sure there is space cleared in your fridge. Set aside a small container of Salt. Ready a big, hot sink full of soapy water.
The night before you’re ready to eat your chicken, take it out of its packaging and get acquainted. If you feel squeamish, please do yourself a favor and nut up.
Place the Chicken on a cleared, cleanable surface (your biggest cutting board on the counter, not the living room carpet) breast-side down. Using kitchen shears, starting at its neck, clip close to the backbone all the way to the tail. This will be easier than it sounds, incredibly satisfying, and super, super weird the first time around. Repeat on the other side. You can save this (along with the roasted bones) to make a really wonderful stock.
Once the backbone has been removed, gently press the Chicken open and flip breast-side up. With firm pressure on the breastbone, flatten a little further. Things will crack. That’s fine. Sprinkle inside and out with one teaspoon of salt, focusing on the meatier areas. Stick the bird into the bag and into the pan.
Wash your hands. Put everything that touched the chicken into 1) the sink or 2) the garbage. Wash your hands again. Spray down your counters with some cleaner.
Seal up the bag and leave it in the fridge until you’re ready to cook.
About 30 minutes before you’re ready to put the Chicken into the oven, remove it from the fridge. Clear out one side of your sink. Ready a stack of several paper towels. Mix together the Butter, Pepper, and Herbs in a small dish. Quarter your Lemons and Onions, and use them to line the bottom of the pan. Preheat your oven to 500°
Rinse the Chicken with cool, running water in your sink. Place in the Onion and Lemon lined pan, and thoroughly pat dry with your paper towels. Using your fingers, gently separate the skin from the breast. This usually works best if you start from the bottom and gently work your way up. Gently. Make a left turn and wiggle yourself some room around the thighs. Once you’ve created a little space, add butter and continue to work it into the skin, until most of the bird has a subdermal butter layer.
Tuck the wing tips under the breasts (to keep them from burning), and wash your hands. Place the Chicken into the oven and roast at 500° for 15 minutes. Drop the temperature to 400° and continue cooking until a thermometer stuck into the inside of the thigh registers at 165° — about a half an hour.
Rest at least 15 minutes before carving. Serve with hella carbs and some roasted Brussels Sprouts.
Bonus: Quick Pan Gravy!
Gravy is the best part of any meal. Period. Non-negotiable. And it’s stupid easy to get on the table.
While the bird rests, scoop any solids left behind out of the pan. Drain the left behind liquids into a tall measuring cup. Skim off 1 tsp of Fat and add it back to your roasting pan, along with 1 tsp Flour. Skim off the remaining fat (or as much as you can reasonably get) and discard (or save. whatever).
Over medium-high heat cook until the Flour gets a little bit nutty. Add the fat-skimmed Meat Juice back into the pan, scrape up any delicious stuff stuck on the bottom of the pan. Add any Chicken Stock necessary to achieve a gravy-like texture (ymjmmv). Bring to a boil to ensure a full thickening effect of your flour-chicken fat roux. Season with Pepper and probably not any Salt.
Serve on e v e r y t h i n g .