Flat Roast Chicken

How many times have I made roast chicken over the years? Thousands. How many ways? Too many to count, but every couple of years, I change my technique. Speed has become more and more of a concern -- getting the food out fast to a horde of ravenous males. One day, in a rush, we simply cut the backbone out and laid the whole bird flat, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and cooked it in under an hour. Gone is the problem of the breast cooking before the rest; all the pieces cook evenly. If you wish, finish with a sauce poured over after cooking, which tastes tangy and delicious over the crisp skin. An ovenproof 14-inch skillet, preferably cast-iron, makes for an easy job. 

  • 1 whole chicken, 3 to 4 pounds, backbone removed 
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper 
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional) 
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled (optional)

Roasting pan method: Follow Step 1, then place the chicken in a large, shallow roasting pan, skin side up, and put in the oven. Proceed to Step 3 and complete. 

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Using kitchen shears, cut along both sides of the backbone to remove. Reserve it for broth. Open the chicken's legs and spread the bird down flat, skin side up. Press down firmly on the breastbone to flatten it. Pat it dry with paper towels. Salt and pepper generously on both sides.

2. Heat a large ovenproof skillet such as cast iron on high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter. Immediately add the chicken, skin side down. Allow to brown (without moving) for 3 minutes. Turn the chicken over, careful not to break the skin, and transfer the skillet to the oven.

3. The chicken is done when it is golden brown and cooked through, 40 to 45 minutes. An instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part, not touching bone, should read 165°F. Remove the chicken to a cutting board to rest for 10 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and the remaining tablespoon of butter to the pan drippings and swirl around.

4. Meanwhile, if you want to make the lemon sauce, whisk together the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice, the red pepper flakes, garlic, and a pinch of salt. Cut the chicken into pieces, drizzle with the pan sauce and the optional fresh lemon sauce, and serve immediately. 

Excerpted from Mad Hungry by Lucinda Scala Quinn. (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2009. Photographs by Mikkel Vang.

Serves 4 to 6
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