To be honest, this recipe has ruined chicken for me.
Chicken made anywhere else, that is.
I am not kidding. Most of you are eating bland, over-cooked, under-seasoned chicken and you have been your entire life. I was one of you until changing my ways.
Chicken is typically the most boring thing you can order on the menu. It is the cheap option, the healthy choice, the least exciting dish. Let me change that for you.
The greatest thing is after mastering this recipe, you can apply it to any bird.
With Fall arriving, leaves changing color and the Holidays right around the corner you need to up your roast poultry game! Use this method on your Thanksgiving turkey to create an unforgettable impression. Carve up a roast duck for Christmas. Make small game birds the same way and serve individually for a decadent New Year’s Eve. Taste the way these dishes are meant to be eaten with my Thomas Keller and Samin Nusrat inspired recipe.
Brined and Spatchcocked
Chicken, especially the breast meat, has a reputation for being dry and flavorless past the skin. Let’s start solving that by brining the chicken overnight. This infuses flavor and keeps the meat moist.
Making the Brine:
- 12 Cups of Water
- 1/2 Head of Garlic
- 1 Cup of Honey
- 3/4 Cups of Kosher Salt (table salt is different and needs different amounts)
- Fresh Herbs, especially Sage and Rosemary
- Bay Leaf, fresh of course
Combine 4 Cups water and bring all of the above to a boil. Turn off the heat and add 8 more Cups of Water. Once brine is room temperature, add the chicken. Cover and let soak overnight.
Now we’ve added more flavor per bite than you’ll have outside of a Michelin star restaurant but that doesn’t solve everything. Our other major obstacle to juicy breast meat is the fact that birds cook very unevenly.
Spatchcocking, fun word great technique
Problem? The breast finishes well before the dark meat if we put it in the oven without some processing.
The solution? Spatchcock!
Break out your heaviest duty kitchen scissors and find the tail end of the backbone. We’re taking it out. Cut down one side of the backbone from back to front of the chicken (after removing and setting aside any innards). Repeat again on other side of backbone to fully remove it.
Every recipe will say “save for stock” which is absolutely true, but they never elaborate.
Making Stock, Respecting the Animal
Do those two phrases have anything to do with each other? In my mind, absolutely. We live in an industrialized farm society where animals made to eat are anything but respected. If something died so you can live, you should do what you can to make the best use of it. In my mind that is using every part of a chicken to make the best possible meal. I find this is less of a conversation and more of a daily fact of life in many other parts of the world. We seem to be inundated with food wealth here to the point of tossing away potential delicious meals.
Enough preaching. Let’s make food.
Making that golden liquid
Save the backbone, organs, wingtips and bones. Roast them under a low broil in the oven for about 15 minutes. It can depend on how many bones you saved and how big the chicken was.
One tip, once the backbone is fully cooked take a bite from the end. Those fatty bits melt into a perfect bite of dark meat called the “Pope’s Nose” that is unlike any other part on the chicken.
All those roasted bits, herbs and leftover veggies now go in the stock pot.
Cover with water and add any combo of onions, celery, carrots, garlic, herbs, bay leaf and peppercorns for flavoring. You can save the roots and skins of onion, garlic, carrot and other veggies you would normally throw away for this use. I keep them in a bag in the freezer for longer lifespan.
Boil on low, reduce water volume by half. Add salt when needed. Continue to simmer for approximately four hours, tasting every now and then and adjusting salt for stronger flavors. This is a great way to reduce food waste and make a better stock than you can buy in the store.
Final and Potentially Optional Steps
Once we’ve brined and spatchcocked our chicken then started our stock, it is time for the final steps.
If you’re pressed on time and serving dinner tonight feel free to skip below. I have definitely noticed less flavor and less crisp when skipping but I get it. Who wants to take three days to make a chicken!
Because it’s worth it.
Time to pat the chicken skin dry and set on a plate or tray to sit, uncovered, in the fridge for 24 to 48 hours.
Professional chefs wouldn’t balk at this, but us home cooks often do. Chickens in Thomas Keller’s restaurant, considered some of the best in the world, sit in the walk-in fridges for days before being served. The opening and closing of the doors create airflow that dries, nearly cures, the skin. It’s the crispiest skin you’ll ever have outside fried chicken. If you truly want to impress a dinner party, holiday meal or try this out on a turkey, you will not be disappointed.
In the end, great food takes time.
Let’s Roast Our Chicken!
That was a lot of prep. Time to cook and enjoy, the whole point of this thing. This part is pretty easy, all things considered.
My goal is crispy skin, rotisserie style juiciness, flavor deep inside the chicken, with white and breast meats both done at the same time. No easy task.
Pre-Heat oven to 300 Degrees.
Splay out your spatchcocked chicken on roasting rack or cast iron pan on top of fresh herbs and garlic cloves.
Cook chicken for one hour, then, and this is key, use a meat thermometer to check temperature. Stick that thing deep inside the meat but not too far that you hit a bone. Measuring into the thickest part of the thigh is usually reliable. We want it to read 165, nothing more. But also, nothing less. Don’t poison yourself with a poorly raised American chicken. Everyone outside the U.S, ignore this and cook to whatever you want because your chicken is much more regulated.
Now enjoy a tasty and filling meal. All that behind the scenes work will pay off when you impress your dinner guests, or just yourself, with an incredible roast bursting with flavor and tenderness.
Using the whole animal to make stock helps respect the process of life, makes you a better cook, and in the end, makes your food taste better and you feel great.
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