What's old is new again when it comes to cooking a whole chicken: It's called spatchcocking. Dictionaries differ as to the origin of the name, but from what I can gather, it dates way back--as far as the late 1700s--as a quick method to cook a fowl by splitting it open and grilling it flat, instead of stuffing it whole and turning it on a spit.
I've been spatchcocking my roast chicken for several months now--if I had a grill I'd use it--and I'm so enthusiastic about the results that I won't go back to the whole roast bird. The chicken cooks more quickly and evenly, and all the skin--not just the skin over the breast--gets golden and crisp. Plus it's much easier to serve; where to cut to separate the leg from the breast is completely obvious.
Flattening the bird is a cinch to do, but you will need poultry or kitchen shears. Turn the bird breast side down with the drumsticks closest to you. Using the shears, cut on either side of the backbone to remove it. You can freeze the backbone for use in a stock later on.
At this point some people like to turn the bird over and press down hard on the breast to flatten it. You need good leverage to really put your weight into it.
I prefer the following method: Don't turn it over yet. Pull the bird open wider and note the white section of sternum bone/cartilage in the center of the breast. With a sharp knife cut a deep notch in the top of it--you'll feel the soft spot--then press on the breast to flatten it. The rest of the breastbone and cartilage may pop up in the process, and you can remove it if you want to or leave it in.
I like to season my chicken with a curry salt jazzed up with a little smoked paprika. For a 3 1/2- to 4-pound bird, stir 2 teaspoons each of fine sea salt and curry powder, 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika, and 1 tablespoon olive oil into a paste. Working in a rimmed sheet pan, smear half of the paste all over the flesh side of the chicken, then flip the bird over so that the skin side is up, and arrange the legs so that they look knock-kneed. Smear the rest of the paste all over the skin.
Now you're ready to roast the chicken in the middle of a preheated 450°F oven until it registers 165°F on an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh and the breast, which takes about 35 to 40 minutes. That's a lot faster than 50 to 60 minutes for a whole intact bird!
You might want to baste the chicken at the end with the pan juices--it makes the skin glisten. But promise me you'll let the roast rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving it. The resting time is crucial to let the juices seep from the surface back into the interior of the meat.
When you're ready, dig in. How's that for a truly delicious and juicy roast chicken--with crisp skin--in less than an hour?
From grilled artichokes to a bruschetta salad, check out the slideshow above for great side dishes to pair with your perfect roast chicken.