One of the most intimidating aspects of cooking is meat — especially poultry. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of cooking and/or eating dry turkey, duck, or chicken, you know there’s absolutely nothing that will fix it. You can slather on all the sauce you want, but dry bird is practically cardboard and no amount of fancy condiments will change the core of that poorly cooked squawker.
Thing is, you can master a roast bird like nobody’s business and I’m here to show you how. I used to lead a team of cooks (consider it a past life) after growing up in restaurants. I always tell any beginner who thinks he/she can’t grab a whole bird from the local grocer and part/cook it that they’ll never look back once they nail the super-easy method known as spatchcocking. Don’t be intimidated! Here’s how it works.
- Pick a bird. Let’s go with chicken, since it’s easily available, cheap, and most people like it. If you’re feeding 4–6, a smaller bird (3.5lbs or 4lbs) ought to do it.
- Remove any and everything from the cavity. Often, there are neckbones and giblet-packets inside. Those are for gravy and/or stock. For now, we’ll forgo that and just focus on the roast.
- This is going to sound silly, but massage the muscles of the chicken. This honestly works to loosen up the bird and make it easier to lay it on your rack. It’s a time-honored trick that works wonders. Give all those muscles a nice, gentle squeeze for a minute or so.
- Remove the backbone with either a sharp knife of kitchen shears. It may seem brutal, but this, my friend, is the method of the spatchcock. You do this because you want your bird to lay as flat as possible, cooking the white and dark meats at the same temperature and time without the white meat (most notably the breasts) drying out. It’s the secret to having super-juicy, flavorful chicken no matter what part you’re eating.
- Cut a bit of the bone behind and between the underside of the breasts just enough so that the bird will splay out.
- Use a paper towel to dry the skin, then rub olive oil all over. This crisps the skin during cooking and adds moisture to the rest of the chicken as it cooks.
- Season the chicken. Personally, I like a good Cajun mix, like Tony Chachere’s. Make sure to get under the skin, too — especially on the breasts.
- Place the chicken on a rack and place the rack above a casserole dish. You need to catch the juices.
- Be sure you turn the legs outward so the skin is facing up. You want all the meaty bits on the top. You can tuck the wings behind the breasts if you like, but it truly doesn’t matter.
- For each pound, cook the chicken for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
When you remove the chicken, the meat will be so tender that you can grab a leg and practically pull it off with little to no resistance. I recommend pulling slightly and looking beneath the skin to make sure any and all juices run clear. If you see any hint of pink or red in the juice, toss it back in for another 15–20 minutes. Just repeat the “juice check” to make sure the bird gets completely cooked. You can leave it whole for presentation or part and platter it for your guests’ ease when they’re making a plate.
Either way, you just rocked a roast for about $10 (if you count the olive oil and cajun mix). That’s so much better than the rotisserie chickens you can get at the grocery store (with their soggy skin and lack of panache) and you totally get bragging rights to go along with it. Happy holidays!