Ok, we all know how to roast a chicken, right? I know plenty of people have their sacred tried and true way, perhaps something their mother's mother's great-great grandmother passed down, or something, or perhaps you flirt with different styles, sometimes stuffing the cavity, sometimes not, simply slathering with butter and salt, or going a full pre-marinade prior to roasting. But, while I think pretty much any way to roast a chicken is a good way, I have to say, if you want fast, delicious, crispy and easy-to serve roast chicken goodness, it's pretty hard to go past a spatchcocked whole bird massaged with a spice paste and roasted until deep bronze and succulent. Read on for the recipe and notes.
Depending on the size of your chicken, either quarter or cut into sixths, dividing the drumstick from the thigh for the extra portions. The spices listed below are just a guide - experiment with different combinations!
Equipment: Mortar and pestle, or a spice grinder
1 free-range chicken
1 lemon, skin on, thickly sliced
few sprigs of rosemary, thyme, or bay leaves (optional)
sea salt flakes
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 T cumin seeds
1 T coriander seeds
2 t dried saltbush (substitute dried thyme or oregano)
1-2 t smoked paprika
1-2 t chill flakes (optional)
About an hour before cooking, (if you remember), take the chicken from the fridge to remove some of its chill. Keep away from heat sources and out of direct sunlight. I don't usually get to do this but it's good practice if you can.
Preheat oven to 200°C. Lightly oil a roasting pan and arrange lemon slices in the centre, topping with sprigs of fresh herbs, if using.
To prepare chicken, drain any liquid from the cavity and pat dry with paper towel. Place the bird on your work surface breast-side down. With shark kitchen scissors, cut along each side of the spine (you will need some elbow grease), cutting through the ribs all the way to the neck cavity. Remove the spine, place in a freezer-safe bag and freeze for later use in stock. Turn the bird over and press down on the breast bone to flatten, (you may hear a crack). Splay out the legs and tuck in the wings neatly (see image below). Place spatchcocked chicken on top of the lemon slices and fresh herbs, if using.
Remove board and knife from the work surface, wash hands, and clean up any residue. (Wash and dry board and knife throughly before using for any other food preparation).
In a mortar and pestle, mash up garlic, a good pinch of salt and all the spices. Add olive oil and mix until you have a coarse, spreadable paste. If using a spice grinder, grind up the dry spices separately, then put into a bowl with the minced garlic and oil, mixing to combine.
Using your hands, slather this spice paste all over the chicken, making sure to get under the wings and legs and around the edges as much as possible. Wash hands again.
Put in the oven and roast for 50 min to an hour, depending on the size of your chicken (see Tip below). Test for doneness by piercing the thickest part of the thigh. The juices should run clear. However, this method ensures very even cooking, so you shouldn't have any issues. If you like, toss in some par-boiled potato chunks halfway through cooking, tossing them in the flavoured oil in the tray.
When cooked, remove from the oven, cover loosely with foil and rest for 15min. In this time, you can prepare a simple gravy (see below). Serve with whatever you like, but roast potatoes and salad are always good.
Tip: Most of the time, a lot of liquid will exude from the chicken as it cooks. This is the enemy of crispy skin, but a boon for the cook. Halfway through cooking (before you add the potato, for example), remove the tray from the oven and carefully pour off as much liquid as you can into a small saucepan. Return the chicken to the oven as quickly as possible. While the chicken rests, boil down this liquid until you have a richly-flavoured jus. I sometimes like to add a bit of Dijon mustard, vincotto, or balsamic, for extra depth. Keep warm and serve with the roasted chicken.
There are many ways to roast a chook, and I don't profess to be an expert in this (hotly contested) field. What Chinese cooks do with poultry, for example, is in a league of its own, but what I can tell you is that if you are a home cook who wants fast, crispy-skinned and delicious roast chicken, this is a pretty fine way to go. Like all my recipes, this is really a template - you can mix up the flavours as you like - but I would suggest you don't try and mix too many different spices, or you can end up with a confused flavour profile where everything gets a bit lost. I'd like to try a Chinese five-spice mix, as well as a more North African-leaning approach with some ras el-hanout or harissa paste, either bought or homemade. The options are endless. You can even just use this method with a bit of butter, lemon and salt - I can attest that the result will be sublime. What I like about using a coarse spice paste, though, is how it gets a bit charred in the oven, forming a deeply-flavoured crust. The paste will also flavour the pan juices beautifully, as well as anything you decide to roast alongside, like the potatoes I suggest in the recipe. Don't overcrowd the tray, however, or you will have more braised than roasted vegetables. The lemon slices underneath the bird act as a trivet, allowing more heat to circulate around the meat, but also, ingeniously helping to keep it moist and adding flavour at the same time. Any additional herbs you have will only help. Enjoy, and as always, I love to know if you try one of my recipes, do let me know!
About The Daughter's Table
The Daughter's Table is a living archive of recipes and stories. It is inspired by my daughter, and the desire to create a food legacy that connects us to what we eat and why.