Delicious as it undoubtedly is, roast chicken can sometimes be just that tiny little bit predictable and finding new ways of preparing and serving it, without in any way spoiling the overall effect and eating experience, is often desirable. There can be little doubt that roasting the chicken over what will ultimately become its accompaniments is both an inexpensive and easy way of tackling this issue. Spatchcocking the chicken - removing the backbone before it is roasted - allows you to make the roasting chicken encompass more sundry ingredients, imparting its wonderful roasting flavors during cooking and adding to the ultimate eating experience for all who are invited to take part.
Ingredients (Serves 2)
- 1 small chicken, around 3 pounds in weight
- 2 medium sized baking potatoes
- 1 medium sized red onion
- 1 medium to large carrot
- 1/2 small rutabaga (Swede turnip)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons freshly chopped curly leaf parsley to garnish
While you are preparing the vegetables and the chicken for roasting, you should start your oven heating to 400F/200C/Gas Mark 6.
Peel the potatoes and chop them to around one inch to one and a quarter inch chunks. Peel the rutabaga (Swede turnip) and chop to similar sized pieces. The red onion should be peeled and quartered down through the center. The various leaves will separate during cooking so there is no need to deliberately separate them by hand. The carrot should be scrubbed clean and topped and tailed but there is no need to peel or even scrape the skin off unless it is particularly badly damaged and scrubbing proves insufficient to clean it up. Chop the carrot in to pieces slightly smaller than the potatoes and rutabaga.
Add all the vegetable pieces to a large, deep roasting tray. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Use your hands to lift and mix them together, ensuring all the seasoned oil is evenly distributed and all the vegetable pieces are coated. Arrange them to form a bed for the prepared chicken.
Sit the chicken on its broad end on a chopping board with the back bone facing you. While you can use a very sharp, sturdy knife to remove the backbone, a Chinese style cleaver really does make the job so much easier. If you've never prepared a chicken in this way before, take a minute to familiarize yourself with where you are going to cut and what you are going to cut through. The backbone is approximately an inch to an inch and a half wide and you can actually see it if you look closely at the bird. Feeling its shape with your fingers will give you an even better idea of where you are going to be cutting.
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Hold the chicken steady with your weaker hand and start cutting at the top of and immediately to one side of the backbone. Cut all the way down, letting your cleaver or knife be guided by the bone itself, until you cut through at the bottom. Do exactly the same on the other side of the bone and the bone can be removed.
There has been a lot of negative publicity in the British food press in recent months regarding washing chickens before they are roasted. Some "experts" claim washing a chicken can lead to bacterial splashes contaminating surrounding kitchen surfaces. It has also been claimed that bacteria from one part of the chicken can similarly be spread over the whole bird. Washing and patting the bird dry with kitchen paper is therefore optional but it's common sense to at least take care regarding the contamination of surrounding surfaces issue.
If you have a set of kitchen scales, you should now weigh the bird to calculate the cooking time of twenty minutes per pound and twenty over. Remember that if you have to go by the weight specified on the packaging, removing the backbone will have reduced that weight slightly.
Lift the chicken on to the vegetables, laying it skin and flesh sides up. Drizzle with more olive oil and use your hands to rub the oil over all the exposed parts of the bird. Season well with salt and put the tray in to the oven for the allotted cooking time.
When the chicken comes out of the oven, it's vital that you check it is in fact properly cooked. Stick a skewer in to the thickest part of the thigh, right through to the bone. Remove the skewer and use it to press down moderately firmly on the flesh just next to the hole you have created. The juices which run out should be perfectly clear. If any red or pink remains, cook for ten further minutes before testing again in the same way.
Lift the chicken with a couple of large slotted spoons or spatulas to a large plate. Cover with aluminum foil and leave it to rest for fifteen minutes. Reduce the heat of your oven to its lowest setting and return the tray of vegetables to the oven to keep warm.
The rested chicken should be lifted to a chopping board where the wings and legs should carefully be cut free at their joints with the main body.
Using the breast bone and rib cage as a guide, cut the two breast fillets free with your knife or cleaver. If you wish, the breast fillets can be cut across the grain in to two or three smaller portions. Similarly, the leg and thigh portions could be separated by cutting carefully through the relevant joints.
Take the vegetables from the oven and lift them in to a serving platter with a slotted spoon. Arrange the chicken portions on top and garnish with the chopped parsley.