There aren't too many things I fear in the kitchen anymore. I've tackled just about all of my phobias over the past few years (yeast, caramel, and frying, just to name a few). Whole chickens, though? Scary....very scary. Roasting a chicken doesn't seem like it should be difficult, but I can't even begin to tell you how many different recipes I've used in an attempt to master the technique. My main problem is my inability, even with a completely functional digital thermometer, to determine when the chicken is cooked properly. On more than one occasion I've pulled a chicken out of the oven, thinking it was cooked, only to cut into it after it had rested and find some not-so-cooked portions. I've tried to test the chicken by piercing it and seeing if the juices ran clear, but I found that often the juices would run clear and yet the meat near the bone wouldn't be completely cooked. Plus, if you pierce your chicken enough, all of the juices run out and you're going to wind up with dry chicken (never a good thing). I also lack any skills in butchering and always manage to mangle the poor chicken. I'm such a big fan of the flavor of roasted chicken, though, that I refused to give up on the hope that I'd eventually get it right.
I may be well on my way with this recipe. I've made this chicken not once, but twice, just this week - that's how much I love it. The first step in the process is, of course, to flatten the chicken. To do that you remove the backbone from your chicken with scissors, then flip it over and apply pressure to the breastbone to flatten. In an ovenproof skillet, you brown the bird skin side down, then flip it over and pop the pan in the oven to finish the cooking process. Because the chicken has been flattened, it cooks faster than it would had it been kept in tact. I've had much better luck determining doneness using my digital thermometer with the chicken flattened in the pan, and I've also found it so much easier to cut the chicken into pieces for serving. Most importantly, the chicken is flavorful and moist. This recipe includes two different sauces you can make to serve with the chicken and while they're delicious, I didn't make them the second time I used the recipe, and I still enjoyed the chicken a lot so I consider them optional.
Flat Roast Chicken
from Lucina Scala Quinn
1 whole (3- to 4-pound) chicken
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Place the chicken on a clean work surface, breast side down. Using kitchen shears, cut along both sides of the backbone to remove (you can save it for stock if you want). Open the chicken's legs and spread the bird down flat, skin side up. With both hands, press down firmly on the breastbone to flatten. Pat the chicken dry then season generously with salt and pepper.
Heat a large ovenproof skillet (preferably cast-iron - I use my 12" pan, which has plenty of room for the bird) over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter to the pan. Place the chicken in the pan, skin-side down. Let the chicken brown without moving, about 3 minutes. Once it has browned, gently flip the chicken over so it is skin-side up. Transfer the pan to the oven.
Roast the chicken until it is golden brown and cooked through or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part reaches 165 F. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute.
Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and the remaining tablespoon of butter to pan, swirling to combine; set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, the red pepper flakes, garlic, and a pinch of salt. Cut the chicken into pieces and serve with the pan sauce and olive oil mixture.