This succulent chicken is roasted with pistou (the Provençal version of pesto) stuffed between the skin and the flesh. This method creates a moist and flavorful bird that is equally delicious served hot or taken on a picnic to be carved and eaten al fresco at room temperature. If you have a really fresh chicken, it’s not difficult to loosen the skin and slide the stuffing underneath, and the results are as impressive as they are delicious. —ChefJune
Test Kitchen Notes
The basil garlic purée is a recipe within the recipe that's really great. It provided enough seasoning to the chicken without extra salt and pepper. My chicken cooked in 45 minutes, which made this recipe easy on a weeknight. Additionally, the author does a great job at telling us how to prepare the chicken, what kind of bird to buy (conventional vs. farmers market/specialty butcher), and how to place the purée under the chicken skin. Lots of helpful tips and details! —emily olson
6 generous servings
5-pound roasting chicken, skin intact (a supermarket chicken won’t work for this recipe, because its skin is too fragile—and may already have been torn in handling before you buy it. Try instead to get your chicken from a kosher or other butcher.)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
plus 2 tablespoons fresh, soft breadcrumbs
garlic cloves, peeled
tightly packed basil leaves, thoroughly washed and dried
extra virgin olive oil
freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Prepare the chicken: Using a poultry shears (or a VERY sharp, slender knife), carefully cut the chicken directly up the backbone, beginning at the tail. You want the skin to remain attached on either side of the spinal column, so it's important that the shears not slip. Grab each drumstick, one at a time, in your hand, and bend it until the joint connecting it to the thigh breaks. Open the chicken out on a chopping board, skin side-up, with the drumstick/thighs facing inward. Use the flat side of a cleaver or a mallet—or the heel of your hand—to flatten the chicken by breaking the breastbone at the wishbone. This will also break the ribcage and collarbone. Don't remove any of the broken ribs because they're attached to thin sheets of flesh that will help to hold the stuffing in place.
Starting at the neck, carefully slide first your fingertips, then your hand under the skin and loosen the filaments that hold the skin to the flesh. Leave the skin attached at the top of the breast bone. Work slowly and carefully so you won’t tear the skin. You will soon find that you¹ve loosened the skin all the way below the knee on each side. Cut the wing tips at the second joint.
Sprinkle a little olive oil on the chicken and rub it all over. Then rub the chicken on the skin side and the bone side—but not under the skin—with a mixture of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Let the chicken marinate while you prepare the pistou.
Make the pistou: With the motor running in your food processor fitted with the metal blade, drop the garlic cloves through the feed tube and process until chopped very fine. Scrape down the garlic, then add basil and chop fine. Leaving the motor running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream.
Shut off the motor, add the cheese, a big pinch of salt and a liberal grinding of pepper. Pulse three or four times to mix well. Scrape into a glass jar and cover until ready to use. You can prepare the pistou up to this point a day or two ahead. (You should have some pistou left over for another use when the chicken is stuffed.)
Heat the oven to 450° F. Stir the pistou into the breadcrumbs a few tablespoons at a time, until you have a stiff mixture. Using your (scrupulously clean) hands, take the pistou by handfuls and slide it under the skin, all the way down around the knees. Use half the mixture for each side of the chicken. When you have it all underneath the skin, wash your hands, then mold the pistou (from the outside) so that it assumes the shape of the chicken. With a small, sharply pointed knife, pierce the web of skin and thin flesh between the inside of the thigh and the tip of the breast, making a slit just large enough to insert the drumstick tip. Place the chicken on a rack in a shallow roasting pan just large enough to hold the spread-out bird. Sprinkle the chicken with more salt and pepper, if you like.
As soon as the chicken is in the oven, reduce the temperature to 375° F. Cover it loosely with a sheet of heavy-duty foil (shiny side-in) Roast for 1 hour and 10 minutes. After the chicken has baked for 30 minutes, begin basting it by pouring 3/4 cup cold water over the chicken. Baste with the accumulated juices every 15 minutes thereafter. After 1 hour and 10 minutes, remove the foil and raise the temperature to 450° F and roast for an additional 20 minutes to ensure the skin is brown and crispy.
Remove the chicken from the oven and allow it to rest for at least 15 minutes before carving it. Serve on a large platter surrounded by a freshly cooked green vegetable, such as broccoli and cherry tomatoes (if they're in season)—for a beautiful presentation.
Teacher’s Tip: If you want this dish to be kosher, omit the cheese from the pistou.
Wine Tip: The wine I prefer to accompany this flavorful roast chicken is a red Côte du Rhône. Mas du Gourgonnier is a local Provençal wine from the Les Baux region that would be especially delicious.