Like many people, I once shied away from cooking whole birds. Melissa Clark changed all that. This twist on a classic roasted chicken recipe is simple reliable, and fun to prepare. Combining a high temperature, salting, a heavy pan and the splayed legs results in an evenly cooked bird (breasts and legs), crunchy skin and perfectly carmelized vegetables. Now, like clock-work, Sunday is Bird Day. Thanks to leftovers, Monday is Bird Day Part II. I love cooking, but not on Mondays. Freeze the carcass and make chicken stock when you have two or more ready to go.
I highly recommend using a cast-iron skillet, but any heavy-gauge pan will work. Just make sure it is large enough to hold the splayed bird. A 12-inch pan works great. Or, a large roasting pan will accommodate two birds if you have many mouths to feed. Also, be sure to use a serious set of oven mitts! Serves 4.
Adapted from Melissa Clark’s recipe. Check out her New York Times instructional video. It got me hooked and might hook you too!
- 1 whole chicken (ideally organic), cleaned and patted dry (4 1/2 pounds)
- 2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 lemon cut in half and/or sprigs of parsley
- 1 head of peeled, trimmed garlic cloves
- 1 yellow onion cut into thick wedges
- 1 apple cut into thick wedges
- 2 carrots cut in half lengthwise and 2-inch pieces
- Prep the bird. Aside from removing the inside packet,
I also cut out the neck stem and the large pads of fat.
- Now it is splay time. Hold the bird breast-side up and splay the thighs open, pushing each leg backwards until you feel the joints “pop” on each side.
- One hour before cooking, rub the chicken inside and out with salt and pepper. According to celebrity chef, Thomas Keller, salting means all of the bird, and plenty of it. “Let it rain,” he says.
- Place the lemon halves and/or parsley sprigs inside the chicken. This step not only adds flavor but helps to avoid the breast from drying out, as does trussing. But, I find throwing a lemon in the cavity is easier than trussing. And, I never have twine on hand, anyway.
- Place the prepped bird in the refrigerator. I first place the bird on a paper towel-lined plate or tray, then wrap the bird and plate in a layer of wax paper or parchment for food safety purposes so that the splayed, raw bird will not come in contact with anything in the refrigerator.
- While the bird is “salting” in the fridge, place a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet in the oven and heat to 500º F for 45 minutes to one hour.
- While the pan heats and the bird “salts” prep the garlic, onion, apple and carrots. Combine in a bowl and cover lightly with olive oil and a sprinkle of kosher or sea salt.
- Remove the bird from the refrigerator at least 15 minutes before cooking, so it can warm to room temperature.
- After the pan been heated in the 500º oven for at least 45 minutes, carefully transfer chicken, breast-side up, to the hot skillet. Sizzle! Press down on the legs so they rest flat on the bottom of the pan.
- Add the garlic, apple and vegetable pieces around the bird and place the pan back into the inferno…oven.
- Continue cooking until the chicken is no longer pink and reaches 165º internal temperature for a total cooking time of 40 to 50 minutes. If you are not using a cooking thermometer, cook the bird until the leg moves easily around the joint and the juices run clear.
- Remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes. Serve with the pan juices and the garlic, apple and vegetable mixture.
- If using a meat thermometer, be sure to check its temperature range. Many, are only rated to 400º F. So, you may not be able to keep the thermometer in the bird while it is cooking.
- Look for an air-chilled bird. You will taste the difference. The link provides a much better description of the process and benefits than I can. But, if you think about the difference in sanitation between taking your own shower versus bathing in a communal tub, you will get the big picture.
- To wash or not wash the bird? Recent research has made this a controversial subject. For years I washed my birds carefully, then proceeded to put on the HazMat suit to clean up the counter and the sink. Not really. But, I do like to give it a gently rinse to get rid of whatever is residing in the cavity. For me, anything colored must go. Logically, a 450 degree oven is going to kill off any pathogens the bird might harbor. So, sometimes I skip this step without grief or horror. Following is the NPR link, which started it all and very humorous rebuttal from Alton Brown and Michael Ruhlman.
Julia Child Was Wrong: Don’t Wash Your Raw Chicken Folks
Bacteria: RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY?
- Special thanks to my sister, a reluctant chicken handler, who modeled with her de-feathered friends for this post. She is now on the bird roasting band-wagon!