Spatchcock chicken and roasted root vegetables

by Bonnie Sparrman

It’s easy to get carried away designing an elaborate menu for a special celebration. Some of us pore over much-loved cookbooks or food blogs hunting for fresh ideas to please our guests. If you’re like me, you recall erstwhile Thanksgiving or Easter feasts and decide which dish warrants repeating. We imagine holiday gatherings, the table spread with a pressed cloth, flowers arranged, candles flickering warmth. I write a prep-list and draw a picture of the dinner plate, arranging the food two-dimensionally days before it is in my hands. I consult with trusted cooks: Alice Waters, Suzanne Goin, and of course, Julia.

Spatchcock chicken

However, most of our days aren’t holidays, and normal meals don’t receive such meticulous attention. We live months of ordinary days that blend together before another High Holy Day comes around. We consume many a mundane meal; sometimes forgetting by Thursday what we ate for supper on Monday. Mealtimes are squished between work and extracurricular activities and all too often we are tempted to eat on the run, off the dashboard, or out of a cardboard box.

So, what about those weeknight meals? At best, we might pitch a pot roast and a few carrots into the crockpot. Or we drop pasta into boiling water, which buys us nine minutes to scrounge for a few mushrooms and parmesan to produce a tasty supper in 18 minutes flat. We have all been there, coaxing supper out of the dregs of the pantry or the freezer, hoping our household will sit and partake together, even for a little while. In my opinion, that’s a victory.

Even if one likes to cook, pulling together a home-cooked meal in addition to the other demands of the day is a challenge. This is why it’s helpful to get comfy with a few culinary tricks that save time, but produce tasty meals made from real ingredients.

To that end, I’d like to re-introduce us to the humble chicken, the one that is still a bit icy inside, thawing in my kitchen sink. Mind you, it is pitifully close to supper time, and roasting this baby whole is out of the question. At the brilliant suggestion of a house guest, Chef Paige, we decide to spatchcock the bird. I grab my poultry sheers and crank up the oven to 450 degrees. She scrubs a few root vegetables, peels shallots, and gathers some herbs.

To spatchcock, or butterfly, we simply cut the back out of the chicken, flip it over and lean firmly on the middle of the bird to crack the sternum. We give our chickie a rinse, and dry it completely. Next, slices of garlic and plenty of fresh sage leaves are tucked under the skin of the breast and thighs. Though it takes a little finagling, we cut the wishbone out of the neck which will ease slicing the roasted breast meat, something that is wise to do with any poultry. And we massage the bird with olive oil. After a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper, we place the splayed-out chicken on a rack that rests over half of a rimmed baking sheet. Add veggies to the other half of the pan, and into the oven she goes.

The beauty of spatchcocking is the way it equalizes the cooking of the dark and white parts of the chicken. Thighs and legs, the dark meat, are different than breast meat, even on a cellular level. The dark meat needs to reach 170 degrees Fahrenheit to be tender. Even taking it to 175-180 won’t hurt a chicken leg, but breast meat dries up if roasted to more than 160 degrees.

Spatchcook, funny word that it is, cooks a two to three-pound bird in 40-45 minutes in a 450-degree oven. The succulent, tender meat produced by this method doesn’t remotely resemble the dry, ubiquitous chicken breasts served at banquets. Those overgrown white-meat phonies destroy the reputation of their more fortunate roaming cousins. These fluttering fowl, who pick about on grass, snatching bugs, seeds, even earthworms, are the real deal. Their supreme flavor is proven by the fact that one small free-range chicken, or the backbones of two, produces more delicious stock than all the bones of three or four overgrown commercial birds.

So, there we have it, one more way to elevate a commonplace evening with a beautiful, tasty meal that comes together with ease. And why not? With many “everydays” to live, may we choose to gather around ordinary suppers that are wholesome, nourishing, and so enjoyable that some may wonder whether it is a holiday after all.

Spatchcock chicken

RECIPE: Spatchcock Chicken and Roasted Root Vegetables

A free-range chicken, approximately 3 lbs.
extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, sliced
12 sage leaves, or other herbs of your choice, plus extra for garnish
salt and pepper
6 shallots, peeled and halved
8 whole garlic cloves
4 carrots, peeled and julienned, but not too small
3-4 parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks no larger than one-inch by a half-inch
2 medium turnips, peeled and cut into chunks no larger than one-inch by a half-inch
1 ½ T. fresh thyme, rough chopped, divided
zest of one lemon
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Rub a 12x16-inch rimmed baking sheet with olive oil.

Peel and slice vegetables and place in large bowl with shallots, whole cloves of garlic, and lemon zest. Toss with several tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil salt, pepper, and half of the fresh thyme.

Rinse chicken. Cut along each side of the backbone, crunching through rib bones with knife or poultry shears. Remove backbone and reserve to make stock on a rainy day. Run fingers inside the neck opening of the chicken to find the wishbone. Using a sharp paring knife, carefully remove the wishbone. Lay chicken on a flat surface breast side up. Push down in the center of the bird. You will hear a pop, and the chicken will lie flat. Dry completely on all sides. Slide sage leaves and slices of garlic under the skin of the legs, thighs and breasts. Rub chicken skin with olive oil, and season generously with salt, pepper, and half of the chopped thyme. Place chicken breast side up on a metal rack that covers one half of baking sheet and arrange vegetables on the other half. Roast for 40 minutes, or until legs or thighs reach 170 degrees and breast reaches 155 degrees F. During roasting, brush chicken with lemon juice and eventually with some of the pan drippings. Turn the vegetables over during baking. Brush vegetables with pan drippings, if you wish.

When chicken reaches temperature, take it out of the oven and cover it with foil. Let it rest for at least 10 minutes. The skin should be beautifully brown and crisp. Carve chicken by removing legs and thighs. Next run your knife under each breast and separate it from the center cartilage. Place breast on a cutting board and slice against the grain. Arrange chicken and vegetables on a serving platter and garnish with fresh sage and sprigs of thyme.

Summer option: Spatchcock chicken may be roasted over a hot grill using indirect heat. Keep track of the temperature of both the light and dark meat.

Note: To find more fabulous recipes and chef tips that will expand your culinary repertoire, log onto Chef Paige Vandegrift’s blog at forloveofthetable.com

PHOTOS: Eric Sparrman