While roast beef is often considered the nation’s favourite Sunday dinner, roast chicken is arguably the most popular modern-day option. It’s also very accessible. But with that, roast chicken is so often terrible, poorly cooked. Less forgiving that beef, lamb, or even pork, understandable concerns over eating and serving undercooked chicken often lead people to err on the side of caution so much so that roast chicken is habitually overcooked to the point of being dry and unpalatable. That needn’t be the case, however. Using just a few, inexpensive ingredients this perfect roast chicken recipe is practically failsafe.
There are various elements to making perfect roast chicken at home, but spatchcocking/butterflying the chicken and curing are key. Some people like to wet brine their chicken, but I’m particularly fond of a simple dry cure for this roast chicken recipe. Others rub compound butter mixtures under the skin, but it’s not entirely necessary. Sure, it enhances the flavour, but a well-cured, perfectly cooked roast chicken is a beautiful thing. Instead, I’d recommend adding a knob or two of salted butter to the skin and basting once or twice during cooking.
For the dry cure, I sprinkle rosemary, thyme, lemon zest, and black pepper over the spatchcocked chicken, then cover the whole thing in fine salt (such as Kosher salt), plus a sprinkling of baking powder. The measurements can be adapted to taste, but I’d suggest three-to-four sprigs of each rosemary and thyme, the zest of one lemon, approximately two teaspoons of baking powder, and 10 tablespoons of salt. Yes, that’s a lot of salt, but the overall result won’t be salty. After curing in the fridge for 12-24 hours, the salt is washed off. Rather than permeating the meat, the salt acts as a chamber to absorb excess moisture from the bird, which in turn helps to make the roast chicken skin crispy.
Spatchcocking also encourages crispy skin, given that almost none of the skin touches the bottom of the pan, instead roasted entirely face up. The general method of roasting the bird completely intact leaves soggy patches on the base. Simply flip the chicken over, score along each side of the spine with a sharp knife or a pair of poultry shears (there should be little to no resistance), remove and reserve the bone for making stock. Flip the bird back over so it’s breast-side up and press down until the breast bone cracks and the chicken can be flattened. Not only does this help the skin become crispy, it also helps the chicken to cook more evenly, and makes it possible to safely cook a perfect roast chicken in as few as 45 minutes. Cook this any day of the week and ideally serve with gravy and roasted vegetables.
- Meat thermometer (optional, but very useful)
- 1 large chicken ideally free range
- 10 tbsp fine salt plus more if needed
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 lemon zest only
- Butter to taste
- Cooking oil
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- On the day before cooking, spatchcock the chicken by placing it on a chopping board, breast-side down. Score along each side of the spine with a sharp knife or a pair of poultry shears (there should be little to no resistance), remove and reserve the bone for making stock. Flip the bird back over so it’s breast-side up and press down until the breast bone cracks and the chicken can be flattened.
- Move to a roasting tray large enough for the spatchcocked chicken and sprinkle with baking powder, lemon zest, and a good covering of black pepper. Place the herbs on the chicken’s surface and completely cover the chicken with salt. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours and up to 24.
- Once the chicken has cured, pre-heat the oven to 220C/Gas 7.
- Rinse the dry cure from the chicken, pat dry with kitchen paper, and move the chicken, skin-side up, to a baking tray. (If you have a baking tray with a rack, that would be ideal, but it’s not absolutely necessary).
- Drizzle a little oil over the skin, and place one or two knobs of butter, to taste.
- Roast in the oven for around 45 minutes, basting once or twice, until the skin is crispy and the thigh meat, at the thickest part, registers at 165F. Alternatively, if you don’t have a meat thermometer, check that the juices run clear.
- Rest the chicken for 15 minutes, then serve.