Spatchcocked Roast Chicken with Onion, Preserved Lemon and Middle Eastern Spices

By • November 6, 2012 0 Comments

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Author Notes: This burnished beauty demonstrates a basic technique that has kind of evolved in my kitchen over the past few years, one that makes so many variations possible. I've listed a few below. Onions roasted first underneath the spatchcocked bird - so as not to get too black in the hot, hot oven -- make a luscious pan sauce. You can either puree them with an immersion blender or leave them as is, for a more rustic sauce. I've spelled out in the recipe a recent favorite combination drawing on herbs and spices of the Middle East. Mix the leftover bits into rice, farro, freekeh, quinoa, etc., for a first-rate lunch made even better with the help of whatever is left in the pan after serving. I do hope you like this. ;o)AntoniaJames


Serves 4-6 depending on the size of the bird and the size of the appetites

  • 1 chicken, 3-5 pounds
  • 2 medium onions
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 or 3 quarters of preserved lemon, depending on their size, rinsed and finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or a couple pinches of dried)
  • A generous pinch of ground allspice
  • A tiny pinch of cinnamon, or a couple pinches of cumin if you prefer (or both!)
  • 1 tablespoon ground sumac
  • 1 cup dry white wine, divided in half
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • (See variations, below.)
  1. Heat oven to 500°. Cut the back out of the chicken; snip down the center of the keel bone (the bone that looks like a keel of a ship, between the two breasts) a few inches so that the chicken will flatten more easily. Slice one onion. Pile slices in the middle of a large cast iron skillet, place the chicken on top, and sprinkle the chicken generously with kosher salt. Add a half glass of water. Roast for 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, slice the second onion, thinly slice a few garlic cloves, and finely chop 2 rinsed preserved lemon quarters. Stir together in a small bowl a couple pinches of dried thyme, a good dash of ground allspice and a tiny pinch of cinnamon (the latter is optional - if you're not crazy about cinnamon, use cumin instead), and a heaping tablespoon of sumac. Grind some black pepper over it.
  3. After 30 minutes of roasting, lift the chicken, and pull the cooked onion slices out to the edge of the skillet. Throw into the center of the pan the sliced onion and garlic, preserved lemon, bay leaves, and the herb and spice blend, and give it all a good stir. Pour a glass of dry white wine over the chicken and roast for another 30 - 45 minutes depending on the size of the bird. Tent with foil midway through this period if the skin is darkening too much. To check whether the chicken is done, push a meat thermometer or oven probe into the thickest part of the thigh – it’s ready at 165 degrees.
  4. Let roasted chicken rest, covered with foil. * * * * * * Optional: Remove the onions and any herbs and preserved lemon that cling to them. Puree, either with an immersion blender (I do this in a 2-cup Pyrex measure) or in a small food processor. Add a few tablespoons or two of water if necessary to get a nice smooth puree. Return it to the pan.
  5. While the chicken is resting, add remaining wine and 1/2 cup of water to the skillet. Bring to a simmer, stirring and scraping up any hard bits. Reduce for about a minute. Add pureed onions if you chose to do that step. Check for salt and correct. Grind over the sauce black pepper to taste. Serve the carved chicken with the onion sauce. ;o) Yours sincerely, AntoniaJames ;o)
  6. A suggestion: After dinner, before (or while) cleaning up, pour about a cup of filtered water into the skillet and stir into it all the remaining sauce, over medium heat. Pour it off into a Mason jar and refrigerate or freeze (wide-mouth jar only, leaving plenty of room at the top if freezing) to put in your next pot of soup or to flavor your next pilaf, or, use less - just enough to get the last of the luscious, flavorful bits -- drizzle on an omelet or frittata. Simply delicious. ;o)
  7. Variation 1: Sausage and herbs: Pile the onion slices in the middle of the pan; sprinkle on 1 tablespoon each of fresh marjoram and fresh thyme leaves, or a couple good pinches of dried, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg; sit the chicken on top; surround the bird with 2 or 3 brats, depending on their size. After 30 minutes, remove the sausages, and slice; pull the onions out to the side of the skillet, and pile the sausage slices on top. Continue as above. Add a teaspoon or two of stoneground or Dijon mustard to the sauce, if the spirit moves you. Remove the sausage slices before making the sauce and serve on the side.
  8. And, either with or without the sausage slices:
  9. Variation 2. Celery stalks cut at an angle into 2” lengths and added after the first 30-minute roasting period. Use the same herbs, but not the nutmeg. Remove the celery with the sausage slices when making the sauce.
  10. Variation 3. Fennel, sliced, and added after the first 30-minute roasting period, with thyme and parsley only. Add bay leaves and a teaspoon of well-crushed fennel with the onions. Remove the fennel slices before making the sauce. Chop any fennel fronds and add immediately before serving.
  11. Variation 4. Artichoke hearts (marinated, drained well), oregano, marjoram, parsley, all added after the first 30 minute roasting period; pile on top of the onion slices around the outside of the chicken. Remove the artichoke hearts and sausage before making the pan sauce.
  12. Variation 5. Carrots and snow peas: Peel and cut into chunks 3 or 4 carrots depending on their size. Pile an onion in the center, along with a few sprigs of parsley or dill, as if you prefer. After the bird has roasted 30 minutes, pull the onions out to the side of the pan and pile the carrots on. Pour over a glass of white wine. About 10 minutes before you expect the bird to be fully cooked, throw a couple handfuls of trimmed sugar snap peas onto the carrots. Remove the carrots and snow peas to a separate bowl for serving on the side, before making the onion pan sauce as described above, discarding the parsley or dill.
  13. If you're worried about pouring wine into your cast iron skillet, don't be. We don't add it until the pan has a fair bit of chicken fat and juices released by the onions, and we don't pour much in at a time. Your skillet and the sauce will both be just fine. ;o)

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