I know what you're thinking - a roasted chicken is a roasted chicken is a roasted chicken. For a long time (until Friday), I thought the same. I also resigned myself to the fact that I was never going to get a chicken done in one shot, as every single time I've ever pulled a roasted chicken out of the oven, it's had to go back in with pink thighs and bloody legs. What was I doing wrong?
While not wrong, necessarily, I had not done the proper research. Thanks again to happenstance and Serious Eats, I learned the science behind a perfectly roasted chicken and put it to work the same evening. It would require using my kitchen shears for something other than Alyssa's craft projects for the first time, as well as a whole heckuva lot more preparation, but I'm never straying from the method. I even plan on cooking our Thanksgiving turkey the same way.
If you care to read about the science behind it, by all means, but basically it boils down to your roasting pan's hot and cold zones. The edges of the pan will always, always be hotter than the middle. Removing the backbone and flattening the chicken ensures that the thighs - the slowest-cooking part, as they must reach an internal temperature of 170 - rest on the hottest part of the pan, and don't cook way behind the breast. The same theory suggests that the breasts sit in the coldest (relatively speaking - internal temperature must be at least 150) part of the pan, therefore cooking more slowly, and won't be cardboardy chicken lumps by the time the thighs are safe to eat.
Besides, you can cook down the backbone for a velvety, vermouth-laced jus that jus to die for (couldn't resist).
Here's what you do and what you'll need (adapted from Serious Eats/J. Kenji Lopez-Alt):
For the chicken:
1 chicken, about 3 1/2 to 4 pounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 teaspoons chopped herbs (I used sage and parsley)
Various ground spices if desired (ground mustard, paprika, garlic powder, etc)
For the jus:
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and roughly chopped (I used 8 baby carrots cause that was all we had in the fridge)
1 stalk celery, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup dry vermouth or sherry
1 teaspoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
Set oven rack to upper-middle position and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using sharp kitchen shears, remove spine from chicken and cut into 5-6 1-inch long pieces.
This is kind of gross and difficult, but nothing my construction-paper-dulled kitchen shears couldn't handle. Set spine aside.
Flatten chicken by placing flat skin side up on cutting board and applying firm pressure to breast bone. Rub chicken on all surfaces with 1 tablespoon oil. Season generously with salt, ground black pepper, chopped herbs and various spices (I also used paprika, granulated garlic and ground mustard).
(Note: I apologize if you envisioned a gorgeously presentable, Norman Rockwell roasted chicken, perfectly trussed and plump for the table. This bird comes out of the oven ugly).
Set wire rack in rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Position chicken so that breasts are aligned with center of baking sheet and legs are close to edge. Roast until thickest part of breast close to bone registers 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer and joint between thighs and body registers at least 170 degrees, about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat remaining tablespoon oil in small saucepan over high heat until shimmering. Add chicken spine and cook, stirring frequently, until well browned, about 3 minutes. Add onion, carrot, and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. The aroma is unreal right now.
Add bay leaf and deglaze with vermouth or sherry and 1 cup water, using wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from bottom of pan. Reduce heat to maintain simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
Strain out solids and return liquid to pan. Boil over medium-high heat until approximately 1/3 cup remains, about 7 minutes. Whisk in soy sauce, butter, and lemon juice off heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Remove chicken from oven, transfer to cutting board, tent loosely with foil, and allow to rest five minutes before carving. Serve with hot jus.