When I’m hankering for the comfort of a meaty centerpiece, inevitably I turn to roast chicken. On the one hand, it’s like a sedan, a practical vehicle for repurposing leftovers; on the other, it’s like driving a flirty convertible along the seashore, your hair blowing and the whiff of everything wonderful in surround sound. Roast chicken is a feeling, and if you love it like I do, you know what I mean.
Some like to stuff it with lemon and herbs, or whole cloves of garlic, then just stuff it in the oven. Me, I like to snip out its back so it’s splayed like a butterfly, a technique known as spatchcocking.
When I first tried this trick several years ago, I thought I'd miss the skin. (I don't.) I also worried that the lean breast meat would dry out without its cushion of fat. (It didn't.)
After pulling off the skin (start at the breast, by the way, and don’t worry about the wings, which are tricky), you’ll discover there’s plenty of fat cushion to go around and keep things flavorful. Without the skin, the bird is less fatty and it marinates more efficiently. There’s no longer a barrier between meat, bone, and marinade, and you only need 30 minutes for a spice rub to do its magic. Plus, without the skin layer, the bird cooks faster, by about 30 minutes.
I learned this method from “From Curries to Kebabs,” by Indian culinary diva Madhur Jaffrey, but she calls it “Curried Whole Chicken, Durban-Style” (Durban is a South African city with a significant Indian population). Several chickens later, I adapted Jaffrey’s recipe and dubbed it “Naked Chicken.” The spice rub you’ll see in the recipe is not really Indian; in fact, the flavor profile may be reminiscent of Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken. Use the spice rub as inspiration and create your own, but I do recommend doing the math for the salt: Estimate 1 teaspoon salt for every 1 ¼ pounds of chicken. This will ensure a well-seasoned bird.
As for that chicken back you’ve removed, give it a rinse, place it in a plastic bag and into the freezer. Once you have a few in your reserve, it’s time to make chicken stock!
When handling with raw poultry, there are a few things to keep in mind: If you’ve got gloves, use’em. Please take extra care by immediately cleaning work surface, tools and anything you may have touched while handling. Hot soapy water with a capful of bleach is recommended.
- 1 4-pound whole chicken
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
Place chicken on a cutting board, breast-side down, drumsticks facing you. Remove neck and giblets from the cavity and trim excess fat around the cavity opening.
With a pair of kitchen shears, cut along each side of the backbone, front to back, and remove, careful not to take any meat along with it. Cutting through the skin can help as a guide as you navigate the backbone.
With the shears as your guide, pull away the skin from the breast and drumsticks to the best of your ability. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Place a rack in a roasting pan or on a sheet pan and place the chicken on top of the rack.
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
In a small bowl, stir together the salt and spices. Stir in the oil, then apply the rub on both sides of the bird until well coated.
Roast chicken breast-side up for about 50 minutes. Check for doneness; 165 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh and clear juices are good indicators. Let cool for at least 20 minutes before carving.