Crispy Butterflied Roast Chicken
Published by W.W. Norton
Editor's Note: Take the guesswork out of making roasted chicken with this Crispy Butterflied Roast Chicken recipe. Chicken recipes can be hard to get just right, but with this butterfly technique you'll learn how to roast a chicken perfectly every time - no more trial and error. Once you've mastered this method, you can make any number of easy chicken recipes with your newfound expertise!
Serves3 to 4
OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together
Recipe CourseMain Course
Dietary ConsiderationEgg-free, Gluten-free, Halal, Kosher, Lactose-free, Peanut Free, Soy Free, Tree Nut Free
- One 3½- to 4-pound chicken
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- About ¼ cup dry white wine or dry vermouth, if needed (if making pan sauce)
- ½ lemon, if needed (if making pan sauce)
- 4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
- 2 large or 3 small red bell peppers (1 pound total)
- 2 medium tomatoes (8 ounces total)
- ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- 2 thin slices rustic bread (each about ¼ inch thick and 5 inches across; about 1½ ounces)
- ¼ cup slivered almonds
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon piménton (smoked Spanish paprika)
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
To Make the Chicken
Butterfly the Chicken: Over the sink, remove the giblets from the chicken, if there are any (they are usually tucked into the cavity). Reserve all but the liver. (Discard the liver or reserve it for another use.) Hold the chicken over the drain and let any juices run out.
Set the chicken breast side down on a cutting board. Using poultry shears, kitchen scissors, or a sturdy knife, cut down along one side of the backbone, starting at the neck and cutting through the ribs on each side. You may need to apply a little extra muscle where the thigh joint meets the backbone. If you wiggle the shears around, you can sometimes find the cartilage that holds the joint in place and snip right through it. If not, just keep at it until you chop clear through the bone. Repeat along the other side of the backbone, so the backbone comes away in a narrow strip. Cut the backbone into 2-inch pieces and reserve it along with the giblets. If you have them. Pull off and discard any large lumps of fat attached to the underside of the chicken. Cut away any excess of loose skin near the neck.
Flip the chicken over so it’s breast side up. With the heels of your hands, press heavily on the breastbone to crack it slightly; you may need to lean your full body weight into it. Once cracked, the chicken should lie relatively flat and its legs should be situated so the “knees”-the joints between the thighs and the drumsticks-are facing inward, giving the chicken a knock-kneed appearance. If they have flopped outward, reorient them. Push each wing tip up over the top of the breast, folding and tucking the wing behind the “shoulder.” Pat the chicken dry all over with paper towels.
Season the chicken: Presalt the chicken, if you like and season with black pepper. If not presalting, season the chicken generously all over with salt and black pepper just before roasting.
Heat the oven: Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 450 degrees (425 degrees convection). Let the chicken sit at room temperature for about 40 minutes while the oven heats. (This is less time than for a whole chicken because the butterflied bird warms up faster.)
Roast the chicken: Put the backbone and the reserved giblets on a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet or ill a shallow roasting pan large enough to hold the bird without crowding or leaving too much space around it (about 10 by 15 inches). Set a flat roasting rack over them and lay the chicken on the rack, breast side up. (If you don’t have a flat roasting rack, place the chicken directly on the baking sheet with the backbone and giblets around the edges.) Roast. If the drippings seem to be getting too dark or start to scorch during roasting, pour about ½ cup of water into the pan. Continue roasting until the skin is crisp and well browned in spots, the juices run almost clear when you prick the breast, and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thigh (without touching bone) registers 170 degrees, about 50 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board (preferably one with a trough to collect juices) to rest for 10 to 20 minutes.
Make a quick pan sauce if you like: Pour any juices from the pan into a small saucepan, discarding the backbone and giblets. (If a lot of browned bits are stuck to the roasting pan, add the wine or vermouth to the pan and scrape with a wooden spoon to dislodge. If they still won’t come up, heat the roasting pan over medium heat to dissolve the drippings.) Bring the juices in the saucepan to a boil, whisking. Taste the sauce; if it tastes a little flat, add a few drops of lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Carve and serve: Halve the chicken by cutting straight down the center of the breastbone. Next cut each whole leg (thigh and drumstick) away from each breast half and cut the legs into thighs and drumsticks. Cut each breast half crosswise in half, leaving the wing assembly attached to the upper portion. When finished, you will have 8 pieces. Pour any juices from the cutting board into the pan sauce, if making. Drizzle a few teaspoons of sauce—you won’t have much, just enough to anoint the meat-over the chicken and serve.
To Make the Romesco Sauce
Heat the Oven: Position racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven and heat to 375 degrees (350 degrees convection).
Roast the vegetables: Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Put the garlic, peppers, and tomatoes on the baking sheet and drizzle with 1½ teaspoons olive oil. Season lightly with salt and toss to coat. Slide the vegetables onto the top rack and roast, turning them with tongs once or twice during roasting, until the vegetables have dark spots on them, the tomatoes have split, and the peppers have begun to collapse, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer the peppers to a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap to steam until cool enough to handle, about 30 minutes. Let the garlic and tomatoes cool on the baking sheet.
Meanwhile toast the bread and almonds: Drizzle the bread slices on all sides with about 1½ teaspoons olive oil and place directly on the top oven rack to toast until golden and crisp, about 10 minutes. Spread the almonds on a small rimmed baking sheet and place on the lower rack to toast until lightly browned and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Let the bread and nuts cool.
Peel and seed the peppers: Working over a bowl to catch any juices, peel the skin from the peppers. (Resist rinsing them, as that will wash away some flavor.) Once peeled, gently tear the stem and core away from the flesh of each pepper and discard the stem and seeds. (Don’t obsess over removing every last seed and/or charred bit.) Drop the peppers into the bowl of a food processor. Add any collected juices, straining the juices if necessary to remove seeds or skin.
Puree the sauce: Break the toasted bread into bite-sized pieces and add it to the food processor. Slide the garlic cloves out of their skins and add them. Pinch off the tomato skins and add the tomatoes to the food processor too. Add the almonds, vinegar, piménton, red pepper flakes, and ¾ teaspoon salt. Pulse to a coarse puree. With the machine running, add the remaining ¼ cup olive oil; process just long enough to incorporate the oil, as overprocessing can turn the sauce bitter. Season to taste with salt. Don’t be shy with the salt-this sauce should be bold.
Serve or store: Serve warm or at room temperature. The sauce will keep, covered tightly in the refrigerator, for at least a week. Reheat it gently in a saucepan or let come to room temperature before serving. Taste before serving, as refrigeration can mute the flavors. If it tastes at all bland, add a splash of sherry vinegar and a pinch of salt.
Method: High heat
Plan Ahead: For the best-tasting, juiciest chicken, presalt the bird (after butterflying it) at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours ahead.
Wine: For white, go with a well-oaked Chardonnay; for red, choose a fruity young California or Oregon Pinot Noir or Beaujolais Villages.
More About This Recipe
If I had to pick one way to roast a chicken for the rest of my life, this might well be it. Butterflying the bird and flattening it before it goes in the pan may add an additional step, but the payoff is enormous. Not only does the chicken cook more evenly-and more quickly-but all of the skin, even the skin on the tops of the thighs, becomes gorgeously crispy. To get the most benefit from the technique, use a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet or a low-sided roasting pan. A deep pan will shield the chicken from the hot oven heat and prevent the skin from browning evenly. As for a roasting rack, you have a choice. A flat rack does promote crisp skin all the way to the very edges of the chicken, but in my experience, the difference between using a rack and not using one is incremental. Both methods give you a handsomely browned chicken with plenty of crisp skin to go around.
Removing the backbone leaves you with the basis for a good pan sauce, as you can roast the backbone (and any giblets that came with the bird) alongside the chicken. The meaty bits caramelize during roasting and enrich the pan drippings, and then it’s simply a matter of adding a little dry white wine or vermouth to the pan while the chicken rests. Keep in mind that this isn’t a fancy or developed sauce, merely a little savory goodness to drizzle over each serving. And it certainly doesn’t preclude the addition of a more substantial sauce or condiment, such as the full-flavored Romesco Sauce that follows. When it comes to serving, you will discover another reason to love butterflied roast chicken: Carving is a breeze.
Romesco sauce, a thick, smoky, brick-red puree featuring roasted red peppers, is one of my favorite accompaniments to roast chicken. Closer to a pesto than a long-simmered sauce, it originated in Spain, in the region of Catalonia. For my version, I roast red bell peppers along with a couple of ripe tomatoes and a few garlic cloves. These are then pureed with toasted slices of crusty bread and almonds, which impart the characteristic coarse, nutty texture. Serve the sauce warm or at room temperature, spooned onto plates alongside carved chicken, or pass a bowl of it at the table. It’s also good with roasted vegetables, pork, and fish, tossed with pasta, and as a sandwich spread.
2011 Molly Stevens