Spatchcocked Citrus-Herb Roast Chicken

Everyone has a recipe for a roasted chicken.  If you don’t, you should, as it is one of the easiest dinners to make.  I’d been wanting to roast a whole bird for a while, so today when I did the grocery shopping, I picked up a lovely bird at Central Market and decided we’d have it for dinner.

Last month, when I was buying wings for our Super Bowl gathering, I overheard a woman ask the butcher behind the counter if he would “spatchcock” the birds she was about to buy.  The 13-year old in me stifled a giggle, because I’d never heard the term before, but the adult in me was curious as to what that word meant.

It wasn’t until today that I looked “spatchcock” up and discovered it meant “to butterfly a chicken.”  If you’re not familiar, spatchcocking essentially means to flatten the bird such that it cooks evenly.  Even though I don’t have a grill to cook on, I decided that I’d use the technique with the bird I’d brought home to see how it affected the cooking of it.

When it came out of the oven, it looked like this:

Easy to fix, flavorful and a one-pan meal...what more could you ask for?

The bird had a lovely browned skin, and more importantly, juicy meat underneath.  I’d finally found a way to roast a bird that ensured all parts of it were evenly cooked, and were all juicy!  So here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • One 3-4 pound whole chicken, rinsed with cold water
  • Two large lemons, sliced lengthwise
  • One large navel orange, sliced into 3 thick slices
  • About 20 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 5 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.

In the bottom of a 5 quart Dutch oven, spread about a tablespoon and a half of olive oil so that it coats the bottom.  Next, lay the lemon slices and orange slices to create a platform that the bird will sit on as you do not want it to touch the bottom of the pan or it will stick.  Lay about 15 of the thyme sprigs over the fruit in the pan, and then strip the leaves from 3 sprigs of the rosemary, sprinkling them over the fruit as well.  Slice the bottom off of the head of garlic, and spread the cloves, skin and all, over the bottom of the pan as well.  Now you’ve got a nice aromatic base for your bird.

To prepare the chicken for roasting, you will need to spatchcock it.  To do this, you need to use a very sharp knife to cut down either side of the backbone, through the ribs.  This will remove the back from the bird and allow you to lay it flat.  Rinse the bird and pat it dry.  Tuck the wing tips under the wing skin.  Sprinkle the bird liberally with salt and pepper on all surfaces.  Carefully fold the bird back into a whole shaped bird to place it into the pan atop the fruit and herb base you’ve built.  Using your hands, spread the remaining tablespoon and a half of olive oil over the skin, and sprinkle more salt and pepper over the bird.  Last, strip the leaves off of the remaining rosemary and thyme and sprinkle it over the bird.

Place the pan into the hot oven and let the bird roast, undisturbed for 90 minutes, or until a meat thermometer stuck in the meatiest part of the thigh reads 160 degrees F.  Once this temperature has been reached, remove the bird and let it rest on a platter about 10 minutes before serving.  The bird will continue to cook and its internal temperature will rise.  You don’t want to carve the bird up immediately as this will allow all the juices that have been trapped inside to run out, creating a dry bird.

I made a pan gravy using the drippings, which was okay, if a bit lemonadey in flavor as I had to add sugar and honey to the drippings to counteract the sour of the lemons that had cooked into the pan juices.

Now that I know spatchcocking a bird makes it cook more evenly, I’m pretty sure I won’t cook a whole bird any other way.  That, and well, I get to use the word spatchcock, which is all kinds of silly.

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