Roasting a whole chicken is a great way to make sure you use as much as possible of this bird that gave its life for your meal, while also saving money. Two excellent benefits now that mountains of food waste keep growing, alongside rising food prices... And hey, if you get your chicken from a reputable source, you know that it's free from horse DNA! Bonus.
As Oliver Thring points out in his Guardian column, living in the city makes it hard to take on a whole lamb or a pig (although me and Rob gave it a good go). Accommodating a chicken is a whole lot easier.
With a decent size bird (say a plump two kilos) you easily get two big meals for two people (more if you bulk up on veg and aren't as greedy as we are...), and can use the remaining carcass to make a nourishing stock for a soup.
My favourite way of roasting a bird requires spatchcocking it (apparently also a term in the pole dancing world, as I found out when looking for the etymology of this lovely word). This involves removing the backbone and the sternum, so it can be flattened out. It ends up looking a bit like a gory butterfly.
Not only does this cut down on the cooking time (since the chicken now is flat and exposed to the heat on both sides, rather than being a cylinder), I also imagine it makes for more, and more evenly crispy, skin (best part of a roast chicken, obviously) since the distance from the top of the bird to the grill element in the oven is the same for almost all parts of the chicken. Besides, it looks cool.
This video shows how it's done. The secret to making the bird stay flat, and not need skewers or anything to keep it in that position, is to remove the backbone and the sternum:
Once that's done, the rest is simple.
Tip: When removing the sternum, you want to use a really sharp knife. Cut using the point all along the cartilage of the sternum, and stay really close to it. First time I did this I made a bit of a mess of it, and after a while realised that I needed to cut more and deeper than I thought.
Save the backbone and sternum, they go in the stockpot later.
1 whole chicken, spatchcocked
1 bunch of thyme
salt and pepper
Set oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
Line a large oven pan with foil (I hate trying to get carbonised residue off of my pans...). Place a layer of thyme twigs, to rest the chicken on.
Slice up the lemon in 4 thick slices, place on the thyme in such a way that one slice ends up under each quarter of the chicken halves.
Rest the spatchcocked chicken on top.
Using your hand like it was a blade, stick your fingers under the skin at the neck end, and pull the skin away from the breast. It should come off easily. Push all the way down towards the legs.
Slide a few thumb sized knobs of butter under the skin, along with a few twigs of the thyme.
Then rub the top of the bird with a tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper it, and place a final few thyme twigs in strategic positions.
Whack in the oven, leave for just over an hour, an hour and 20 minutes (note: this was a big bird, well over 2 kilos), until done (use a thermometer, or do the old "when juices run clear" thing).
The way I then would go about it is to carve off the leg quarter and the wing on each side, and have that for our dinner straight away. Legs and wings are the tastiest parts, so they go first. This particular night we served it with our carrot, cauliflower and cottage cheese low carb rösti. Recipe to follow, they are delicious.
Leaving the breast to cool a bit (don't burn your fingers), I then rip off all the meat and place in a container (make sure it is cool before putting in the fridge). That can then be chopped up and added to a healthy kick-ass paleo style salad, or why not a hearty butternut squash soup?
Place the remaining parts of the carcass and any scrappy bits with the backbone and the sternum (you did save them right?), and use to make chicken stock.
There. All of the bird used productively, while stretching a £10 pound purchase to several meals.