How to CookChicken

A Simple Cooking Technique to Keep My Kitchen Skills (& Shears) Sharp

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We’re changing the way we cook over here at Food52—with articles and recipes and eight weeks of newsletters. Follow along at #f52cooking—and let us know how you're changing the game.

I’ll admit it. I’ve fallen into the cereal-for-dinner slump. Or weeks where I’ve nibbled on meals of carrots and hummus and crackers and cheese. It’s not that I don’t want warm bowls of beans, cheesy lasagnas, or tender, crunchy salads. But that Newton guy was on to something—an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion. As much as I’d love to wake up in those moments and feel inspired, it’s just not going to happen. Momentum comes from doing.

To keep the ball rolling, our final Change the Way You Cook newsletter offers some expert advice to prevent kitchen inertia, like joining a cookbook club (hint, hint) for inspiration and support, or organizing a food swap to limit leftover fatigue. Another option? Giving yourself a realistic challenge, which is how I ended up spactckcocking a chicken on Sunday afternoon.

The 30-Minute Roast Chicken You're Not Making Yet
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The 30-Minute Roast Chicken You're Not Making Yet

I’ve long heard the wonders of spatchcocking—the technique of removing the backbone and flattening the breastbone of your bird. “It’ll make your skin crispier! Your meat juicier! Your dinner faster!” And despite the fact that’ve never handled a raw whole chicken (I know), I figured this was just the type of approachable push I needed.

Yes, I could have gone with the classic roast, but Leith Devine’s Pucker-Up Lemon Sumac Chicken with Lemon Herb Board Sauce has been on my “to make” list for quite some time, and I wanted a bright reward.

I began by rinsing and drying my chicken, then popping it (uncovered) back in the fridge to chill as I made my spice-filled rub. After a couple of hours, I placed my bird breast side-down on my cutting board so that the cavity was facing me. Using kitchen shears, I cut in a straight line along the outside of the spine from neck to tail, then along the other. I was surprised how easy it was to cut some parts of the bird, while others (near the ribs) required using two hands. Spine removed, my chicken still didn’t lay flat. While some sources (and the recipe) just said to push the chicken’s back until the breastbone popped, I chose the less goosebump-inducing method of making a 1/4 inch-deep cut into the bone, which accomplished the same thing.

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Seasoning my chicken was a bit harder than I thought—the recipe notes to get under the skin, but doesn’t say how. I had to wash my hands (thoroughly!) and call my dad for advice.

Once spatchcocked and seasoned, my chicken went into a 350° F oven on a bed of onions, garlic, and lemons, and soon perfumed my apartment with its mouthwatering, citrusy scent. When I removed it from the oven an hour later, the skin was golden and juices bubbling. I (impatiently) waited for the 15-minute rest time, then carved off a drumstick to taste. It really was crispy and juicy and all the wonderful things I’d been promised. More importantly, it was a delicious reminder of why I should keep my cooking skills (and shears) sharp.

The best part of my Sunday project? It's set me up to keep cooking all week long: I can use my roasted chicken in salads or sandwiches or folded into breakfast tacos, and the bones are on their way into being a big batch of soup. (Finding ways to use up leftovers is cooking, too.) That way, I don't have to motivate myself from scratch.

Pucker-Up Lemon Sumac Chicken with Lemon Herb Board Sauce

Pucker-Up Lemon Sumac Chicken with Lemon Herb Board Sauce

Leith Devine Leith Devine
Serves 6-8
  • 1 whole chicken, spatchcocked
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 lemons, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons sumac
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ras el hanout (more if you like it spicy)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • 4 tablespoons cooked chicken juices
  • 2 garlic cloves from the roasting pan, chopped
  • 4 slices cooked lemons from the roasting pan
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 handful fresh mint, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons honey
Go to Recipe

How do you keep the ball rolling in the kitchen?

Tags: Change the Way You Cook