Roast chicken is a pretty basic, universal dish, isn't it? Who didn't grow up with it? I grew up eating chicken cut up into pieces and baked, with a variety of treatments on top, usually very simple and letting the wonderful taste of roast chicken stand primarily on its own. When Cherie and I started cooking together, a whole roast chicken became another favorite, usually rubbed with salt, pepper and thyme and stuffed with a cut up lemon.
But then we saw an episode of Good Eats and Alton Brown changed how we cook chicken. If you cut out the spine and butterfly the chicken it cooks more evenly (and rapidly). This method produces a succulent, delicious chicken. Choose to make the sauce or not as you see fit - we usually don't (watching our girlish figures, you know). My take on the recipe is a little simplified and substitutes hard apple cider for wine, but Alton's recipe uses red wine in the same measurement. If you got the wine route, choose a lighter and fruity red like a Pinot Noir or Beaujolais.
1½ tsp black peppercorns
4 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 lemon, zested
Extra virgin olive oil
Onions, carrots and celery cut into 3 to 4-inch pieces
3 to 4-pound broiler/fryer chicken
1 cup hard apple or pear cider
8 ounces chicken stock
2 to 3 sprigs thyme
- Position the oven rack 8 inches from the heating source of your oven and turn broiler to high. Crack peppercorns with a mortar and pestle (or crush with the bottom of a pot in a large skillet) until coarsely ground. Mix crushed pepper well with garlic and salt in a small bowl - add lemon zest and work just until you can smell lemon. Add just enough oil to form a paste.
- Check out your refrigerator for onions, carrots and celery that are a little past their prime. Cut vegetables into pieces and place in a deep roasting pan.
- Place chicken on a plastic cutting board breast-side down. Using kitchen shears, cut ribs down one side of back bone and then the other and remove. Open chicken like a book and remove the keel bone separating the breast halves by slicing through the thin membrane covering it, then by placing two fingers underneath the bone and levering it out. Turn chicken breast-side up and spread out like a butterfly by pressing down on the breast and pulling the legs towards you. Loosen the skin at the neck and the edges of the thighs. Evenly distribute the garlic mixture under the skin, saving 2 teaspoons for the jus. Drizzle the skin with oil and rub in, being sure to cover the bird evenly. Drizzle oil on bone side of chicken as well.
- Arrange bird in roasting pan, breast up, atop vegetables.
- Place pan in oven being sure to leave the oven door ajar. Check bird in 10 minutes. If the skin is a dark mahogany, hold the drumstick ends with paper towels and flip bone-side up. Cook 12 to 15 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Juices must run clear. Remove and place chicken into a deep bowl and cover loosely with foil.
- Tilt pan so that any fat will pool at corner and spoon it out or use a baster. Set pan over 2 burners set on high. Deglaze pan with a few shots of cider and scrape brown bits from bottom using a carrot chunk held with tongs. Add chicken stock, thyme, the remaining garlic paste and reduce briefly to make a jus. Strain out vegetables and discard. Slice chicken onto plates or serve in quarters. Sauce lightly with jus and serve.