Every cook has a method for roasted chicken–and just about every cook will tell you what a simple yet important recipe it is. Roast chicken is almost never bad, but it can be truly incredible if you do it right. There are a lot of great ways to make it. My method is a combination of a few key tips from some of my favorite roast chicken recipes, (namely Zuni Cafe’s and Mad Hungry’s) plus a lot of practice roasting of chickens over the years. While the roasting method is basically always the same, you can finish the dish a number of ways. Here, I’ve made a simple tomato pan sauce, creating a nice summer-into-fall kind of dinner.
Flat-Roasted Chicken with Tomato Jus
1 3 to 3 1/2 pound chicken, rinsed and patted dry
4 small sprigs thyme
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablepsoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 large garlic cloves with skin, lightly smashed
1 pint cherry tomatoes
2/3 cup dry white wine or white vermouth
2-3 thyme sprigs
4 slices crusty bread
1 garlic clove, halved
- Remove backbone from chicken by cutting down both sides of it with kitchen shears; discard or reserve for another use. Spread chicken open like a book and press down on breastbone to flatten it a bit more; tuck wingtips. Trim any excess skin and fat from neck and body cavity. Use one finger to loosen skin the top of each breast and insert a small sprig thyme. Do the same on each thigh, near where thigh and leg meet. Sprinkle chicken liberally on all sides with coarse kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Place on a plate or dish and cover loosely with plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 3 hours or up to 24.
- Let chicken sit at room temperature 30 minutes before cooking. Heat oven to 400 degrees with rack in center. Heat a large, ovenproof, cast-iron pan over medium-high heat (it really needs to be fully heated–this will take a few minutes) add oil, butter, and garlic cloves. When butter is melted, gently blot chicken dry with paper towels, season again with a little more salt, and gently place it skin-side down in the pan (nudge garlic cloves to the side first.) Let chicken sit, undisturbed for 4 minutes or until skin is golden brown. Then carefully flip it over, (to avoid breaking the skin, I usually grab it by the ends of the drumstick to do this, but be extra careful if you do it this way!) tuck garlic cloves underneath chicken, and place the entire pan into the oven. Roast until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees, about 45 minutes.
- Remove from oven and place chicken on a cutting board to rest. If there’s a lot of excess fat in pan, remove some of it but leave the garlic cloves and drippings (fat is clear, drippings are brown and watery). Place pan over medium heat; add tomatoes and thyme sprigs. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes are soft and just beginning to burst. Add white wine and cook for 1 to 2 minutes; remove from heat.
- Toast bread slices. Rub one side of toasts with a garlic clove, then drizzle with a bit of olive oil; place toasts on a rimmed serving platter or divide among 4 shallow bowls. Cut chicken into serving pieces and place over the toasts. Pour tomatoes and jus over chicken and bread; serve immediately.
Note: if you want even more jus, add 1/4 to 1/3 cup chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth to pan along with white wine.
By the way, if you haven’t read The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, head right over to your library, bookstore, or Amazon to check it out. It’s an inspiring book filled with fantastic recipes and cooking tips–one of those highly “readable” cookbooks. In fact, I’ve made very few of the actual recipes in the book, but the book itself has influenced my cooking in a major way. The bit about salting chicken and meat in advance will change your life (seriously), not to mention make you much more proficient at roasting chickens!