I am going to come right out and say it: To me, the most satisfying, tastiest, home-cooked meal is an all-American roast chicken. Crispy skin, tender meat, melt-in-your-mouth vegetables that basically confit in the drippings, and only one pan to wash (assuming the potatoes are cooked with the bird). What’s not to love?
It seems people do not roast whole chickens as frequently as they once did. Probably for a few reasons, the main reason being that boneless, skinless chicken breasts are so darn available, un-messy, and convenient. Plus we had all those years of being scared of fat. In the real life rush to get dinner on the table, any recipe calling for an hour’s worth of roasting time is likely a non-starter. I think today’s less experienced home cooks are a little scared of raw meat and poultry, especially when dealing with a whole animal or bird. Chicken meat cooked with the skin and bones is more tender and juicy and delicious, not to mention a whole bird is considerably more affordable per pound than boneless, skinless breasts. While breasts are cooked and consumed once, maybe twice as leftovers, a roast chicken is a delicious gift that keeps on giving. Crispy skin to sneak as a snack for the cook who carves the meat (who, me?!), a cooked carcass to use for stock, schmaltz for future culinary endeavors (like matzo balls), leftover drumsticks for a decadent lunch the next day, and chicken meat for soup or potpie. Food waste is a serious issue. Instead of letting the chicken breast companies do questionable things with the bones and giblets, I prefer to use up the trimmings in my own kitchen.
Enter spatchcocking, one of my least favorite words and most favorite methods of cooking. By removing the backbone of a chicken, turkey, or Cornish game hen and flattening it on a rack, on a bed of vegetables, or right on the pan, at least 15 minutes can be axed from the roasting time. Because all the meat and skin are face up, more of the surface is exposed to the dry heat circulating in the oven, making for crispy skin, and even doneness. A four and a half pound chicken, when spatchcocked, roasts to 165° internal temperature in 40-45 minutes when cooked at 400°. If I set the oven to preheat right when I walk in the front door in the evening and make quick work of the backbone removal with sharp kitchen shears or my boning knife, then give the skin a simple massage with salt, pepper, olive oil and dried herbs, I can get the bird in the oven within the 10 minutes it takes for it to come up to temp. (Don’t tell my husband, but I’ve even done this with my kid in the child carrier!).
After I’ve cleaned and sanitized the counter and my hands, and switched boards, I chop some veggies (quartered onion, whole garlic cloves, halved Brussels sprouts, and chopped carrots are a good combo) and toss them in with the bird. By the time I’ve finished feeding, bathing, and reading a bedtime story to my son, grown up dinner is hot and ready. We’ll do family meals in the future, but for the time being, baby bedtime is 7 p.m. sharp. My husband and I dine together when he gets home at 8 p.m., and if roast chicken is on the menu, we are all happy eaters, including my son who gets to enjoy it the next day.
I know rotisserie chickens are readily available, affordable, and easy, but honestly, the skin is always soggy and the meat a little dry. A homemade roast chicken is worth it; heck, the smell wafting throughout the house alone it is worth it.
A cook’s note: Please don’t toss that backbone! Put it beside the bird in the pan and let it roast. Any chef willing to share their secrets will tell you the absolute tastiest part of a chicken are the oysters. There are only two, and they are tiny; in my house they rarely make it to anyone’s lips but mine. Consider it a perk of being the resident cook. Once you’ve savored the chicken oysters, hang on to the roasted backbone and use it with the chicken carcass to make stock (freeze both in a gallon zip-top bag, along with your onion and carrot trimmings if you don’t plan on making stock within a few days).
Is roast chicken in your regular dinner rotation? What are some of your favorite seasonings? Do you eat the oysters yourself or do you share? Please, tell us in the comments!
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