Growing up, my siblings and I often spent weekends at my grandparents’ home out in the country. A stay at Grandma and Grandpa’s was always a subdued affair. Mornings were spent quietly watching old cartoons or reading books we’d found in the attic. In the afternoons we would be banished to the backyard, where we’d feed grass to the neighbor’s horse, dare each other to eat crabapples, and generally try to stay out of trouble. Then, as the day drew to a close, we’d sit down to the same supper again and a again: Roast chicken with mashed potatoes and green vegetables. The chicken would be seasoned simply with pepper and salt. For the potatoes there would be some butter and maybe a grind or two from the mixed savory spice bottle that always sat at the table. For dessert there would maybe, just maybe, be a butterscotch candy in our future. Yep, my grandpa was a Werther’s man. He would slip them into our hands when grandma wasn’t looking. She was a firm believer in simple wholesome foods and in not spoiling appetites. To this day she still amazes me with her health and wellness habits. Without her, I probably would not have been turned on to the nutrition benefits of coconut oil, and there will forever be a bowl of vegetation scraps by her sink, ready for the compost pile and eventually the garden, where she goes to snack on sweet sugar snap peas and cherry tomatoes.
While I may have loathed those repetitious dinners as a child, something in me now longs for that same meal on a regular basis. There seems to be something so special about the tradition of the Sunday supper, dishes built on expectancy and perfected over the years. In chef Marcus Samuelsson’s book Yes, Chef: a Memoir, he recalls the ritual of going to his Swedish grandmother’s house every Sunday as a young boy to help her prepare roast chicken. These experiences of cooking the same meal with his grandmother every week end up becoming the foundation and inspiration for him becoming a chef. Marcus’s story is an interesting one, and although there is much to him that I cannot relate with, I still share in his fondness for the comfort of tradition. I long to build that tradition with my family, to spend Sunday afternoons teaching my some-day children how to make cassoulet or apple pie or a perfectly roasted chicken.
The first time that I roasted a whole bird was Thanksgiving two years ago. It was a turkey, and while it turned out quite delicious, it also took five hours to cook. Since I’ve decided that I need more roast chicken in my life but don’t have hours to spare waiting for dinner to finish, I thought I would try a new technique that significantly cuts down on cooking time. It is the butterfly.
I did a bit of research on this technique and found it to be fairly simple. First I put the thawed chicken on a cutting board breast side down and blotted it all over with paper towels to remove any excess water. * Note that dry skin helps it to crisp better in the oven and also prevents you from slipping and cutting yourself when you are butterflying it. Using my kitchen scissors I cut through the ribs down either side of the backbone then removed it from the bird.
Who knew about the keel bone? Did you?
I then opened the chicken up wide. Taking a knife, I sliced through the thin membrane covering the keel bone and slid my fingers underneath and leveraged it out. I also learned the name of a new bird bone and that they can be quite finicky the first time you try to pop one out.
Flipping the bird over I then pressed on it with my hands to flatten it out, pulling the legs down a little bit. I loosened the skin at the neck and thighs with my fingers then distributed a mixture of minced garlic, olive oil, fresh ground pepper, and a little salt under the skin. I then drizzled the bird with canola oil inside and out and spread it all around.
I don’t own a traditional roasting pan so made do with what I had. I knew I needed to keep the bird elevated for even cooking, so I took my 9 x 12 glass baking dish and loaded the bottom with some large chunks of carrots, celery and onion that I had in my fridge. I placed the bird on top of the veg in the pan, breast side up. I let the chicken cook for about 30 minutes on Broil, checking it often for even coloration. If you are following this and see that your bird’s skin is getting too dark, you can simply flip the whole thing over. I used a thermometer to check for doneness (165 F) then removed it from the oven. Warning: The smell WILL make you sigh with pleasure.
After carving the chicken and taking my first bite, I have to say that the result was quite lovely – Crispy skin, tender meat, and the vegetables that had been roasting in the chicken jus underneath were divine as well. Even being pleased with my meal, I can always find room for improvement: some lemon zest here, a little rosemary there. A tradition must always begin with day one though, no? Here’s to many more roasted birds in my future, and yours as well!