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Spatchcocking makes a juicy, crispy roast chicken

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    A spice-rubbed spatchcocked chicken, segmented after roasting, shows the benefits of this method of roasting a flattened, butterflied bird.

Everyone’s looking for the perfect roast chicken, yet spatchcocking still seems like a secret of those in the know. Suffice it to say, it’s a skill worth learning, and not just because spatchcocking is a fun word to bandy about with authority.

Also — and less amusingly — known as butterflying, spatchcocking is the method of cutting out the chicken’s backbone, opening the bird up and pressing down on it so its breastbone cracks and flattens. Once it’s spatchcocked, a chicken roasts more quickly and evenly than an intact bird, eliminating that pesky problem of overcooked breasts and undercooked thighs. You can also use a hotter oven, which leads to crisper skin.

Some especially keen spatchcockers will also carve out the keel bone in the center of the bird’s sternum to get an even flatter bird. Others don’t bother removing the backbone entirely, preferring instead to cut along just one side to open the bird.

I take the easiest path, leaving in both the keel bone and the backbone. (A bonus: Gnawing on the roasted backbone is delicious.) But feel free to remove one or both if it suits you.

You can season a spatchcocked chicken any way you’d season a regular roast chicken. Do this at least an hour or so in advance if you can, so the flesh can absorb the salt all the way to the bone. Even better, season it the day before and let it rest overnight, uncovered, in the refrigerator so the skin can dry out and then crisp up even more in the oven.

In this recipe I rub the chicken down with salt, a mix of spices and a touch of dark brown sugar. The sugar doesn’t add much sweetness, but it does balance out the heat of the chili and dry mustard powder, and helps brown and caramelize the skin. Make sure your spices are fresh, especially the mustard powder, which goes stale quickly. If it doesn’t burn your tongue when you taste it, buy a new jar.

With all those spices smeared onto it, the bird itself has a lot of flavor, and it is so inherently juicy you don’t need a sauce — secret or otherwise.

Spice-Rubbed Spatchcocked Chicken

  • 1 chicken, 3-1/2 to 4 pounds, patted dry
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 2 -1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ancho or New Mexico chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 bay leaves, torn or cut into pieces
  • Lime or lemon wedges, for serving

Spatchcock the chicken by using poultry shears or kitchen scissors (or a sharp knife) to cut along one side of the backbone until the chicken opens. If you like, you can cut along the other side of the backbone and remove it, or leave it attached to roast with the rest of the bird. Open up the bird and lay it flat, breast side up. Press hard onto the center of the breast until you feel a pop and the breast lies more or less flat.

In a small bowl, mix together sugar and all the spices. Smear the mixture all over the chicken.

Lay chicken, skin side up, on a rimmed baking sheet (or plate) and refrigerate uncovered for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

Heat oven to 425 degrees. If the chicken isn’t already on a baking sheet, transfer it to one. Roast chicken 40 to 50 minutes, until juices run clear when thickest part of the thigh is pricked with a fork (an instant- read thermometer plunged into the thickest part of the breast will read 150).

Remove from oven, cover bird with foil and let rest for 10 minutes before carving. Serve with lime or lemon wedges on the side. Serve 4.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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