Week 22: The Whole Chicken
Fall has such a lovely smell. As the fallen leaves begin to decay, their sugars and organic compounds break down, creating the classic musty-sweet smell of a leaf pile. It’s a distinctly earthy sign that the plants are hunkering down for the winter. That mesmerizing smell… Here on the farm, all of the garlic has been planted and mulched. And the year’s last batch of broiler chickens were processed. We are also looking forward to getting a few fall frosts under our belt because many of the hardy vegetables become much sweeter after they have been frosted a few times. It’s like a special treat as the weather gets colder!
Many newer members inquire why the farm chickens come whole and aren’t processed into parts. And not to get all Aristotle on you, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Aristotle coined this phrase based on a concept of synergy, and from a farm chicken point of view you get so much more from a whole chicken than you do from its parts. There is almost no waste with the processing of broiler chickens – from the neck down to the feet.
PRO FARM TIP:
Freeze your carrot tops for a perfect addition to bone broths and chicken soups
Bringing home a whole chicken opens up so many different recipes and cooking methods. The recipes below start with cooking the chicken whole, followed by recipes that break it down into spatchcock and butterfly form, and lastly butchered into pieces before cooking. We use it all, and encourage you to use it all too! And don’t forget about the homemade chicken soup recipe posted back in 2019, Week 22 or the bone broth recipe in pictures from 2019, Week 31. Come explore The Whole Chicken with us.
ROAST CHICKEN WITH SCHMALTZY CABBAGE
1 large head (2 ½ pounds) green cabbage
Splash of oil, any kind
Freshly ground black pepper
1 whole chicken, thawed
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
A lemon, if you wish, for serving
Heat your oven to 450 degrees F. Halve your cabbage and slice each half into 1 to 1.5-inch thick slabs. Very thinly coat the bottom of a 12-inch oven safe skillet or an equivalent roasting pan with oil, just to keep the cabbage from sticking before juices trickle down.
Arrange cabbage slices in the pan as if you were making a mosaic, cutting pieces down as needed to get them to fit tightly. Season cabbage with salt and pepper.
Pat your chicken dry and rub or brush it with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Generously salt and pepper the chicken all over (I use a full tablespoon of Diamond kosher salt on my 3-pound bird; use half of another brand).
Place chicken breast side-up over the cabbage and roast for 45 to 60 minutes, spooning the bird and cabbage around it with butter a few times throughout. Chicken is done when a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads 155 degrees, or 165 degrees for the thigh. If your chicken is much larger and you find it’s getting too dark for your tastes, reduce the heat to 425.
Lift the chicken off the cabbage and set on a plate (or warmed tray) to rest. Flip each section of cabbage over carefully in the pan, nestling them back in, and return the pan to the oven for 5 to 10 minutes at 450 degrees, until the edges are very dark brown. Season with more salt and pepper if needed.
Cut chicken into pieces and serve with the cabbage, finishing everything with lemon if you wish.
Notes: The sizes here barely matter. You should get the size chicken you can get — my local stores usual sell city-sized ones (3 pounds, sometimes less, occasionally more). They’re delicious but if yours is bigger, you’ll just need more cooking time.
HOW TO SPATCHCOCK AND HALVE CHICKEN
Spatchcock is the act of removing the backbone from a chicken so that the bird will lie flat, allowing the meat to cook more evenly in a shorter amount of time. Halving the chicken makes it even easier to render the skin exceptionally crisp.
Using good kitchen shears, cut the backbone out of the chicken. PRO-TIP: Save and freeze backbone for future bone broth or soup recipes.
Make an incision on the underside of the breastbone to help the cartilage separate. Place the chicken rib-side down and press firmly on the breasts, breaking the rib bone, and flattening the chicken. Your bird has been spatchcocked.
Make sure the chicken skin is evenly distributed across the front of the bird—just adjust it by sliding left or right if necessary. Using your biggest, sharpest knife (or a cleaver), slice through the skin in the center of the breasts from top to bottom to ensure it's evenly divided. Then, place the knife on that line and press down through the meat—you'll have to use a bit of muscle to cut through the bones and cartilage here—until the chicken is cut completely in two. Your chicken is now halved.
WHOLE GRILLED SPATCHCOK CHICKEN
1 whole chicken, fully thawed
Salt and pepper
½ to 1 cup compound butter, softened
Pre-heat your grill with a two-zone setup
Spatchcock chicken (directions above)
Stuff the compound butter under the skin of the chicken, trying to get it under the leg skin as well as the breast skin.
Salt and pepper the chicken all over
Place the chicken on the cool side of the grill, skin-side up
Close the lid on your grill and cook until thickest part of the breast reads 122ᵒ F
Turn the chicken over, placing it skin-side down over direct heat with the breast facing the cool zone.
Cook the chicken until the lowest internal temperature of the breast reaches 157ᵒF
Remove the chicken from the grill and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes for the proteins to relax and reabsorb juices.
Carve the bird how you see fit and serve!
Notes: To be delicious, a chicken grilled needs little more than salt and pepper. Before putting your chicken on the grill, liberally salt and pepper both the skin and bone side of the bird. However, to make a chicken really fantastic, you can do better. Use your favorite BBQ rub to add zip and excitement, or brine your chicken in a flavorful bath to give it a little something else. In this case, we’ve used a savory compound butter tucked under the skin of the bird. The fat from the butter will render with the fat of the chicken, helping to “fry” the skin more, and the flavorful seasonings left behind will permeate the meat with their essences.
It is also important to cook the bird to temperature. A thermometer probe is very useful tool here if you have one.
CRISPY SKIN CHICKEN WITH DILL AND GARLIC SAUCE
2 chickens, thawed & backbones removed, halved through the breastbone
1 1/2 tsp. plus 2 Tbsp. kosher salt; plus more
3 heads of garlic, cloves separated, peeled
3 cups vegetable or other neutral oil, divided
3 Tbsp. Aleppo-style pepper
3 large shallots, thinly sliced
2 1/2 lb. potatoes, halved, quartered if large
1/2 cup coarsely chopped dill
A deep-fry thermometer
Place racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 325°F. Pat chicken halves dry with paper towels and season generously all over with salt. Arrange, skin side up, on 2 wire racks set inside 2 baking sheets so that you have 2 chicken halves on each rack. Roast chickens, rotating baking sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through, until just golden and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breasts registers 150°F, 45–50 minutes.
Meanwhile, pulse garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Heat 1 cup oil in a small saucepan over medium until shimmering. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until softened and slightly darker, about 1 minute. Transfer to a small bowl. Stir in Aleppo-style pepper and 1 1/2 tsp. salt. Set garlic oil aside for serving.
Fit a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot with deep-fry thermometer. Heat remaining 2 cups vegetable oil over medium-high until thermometer registers 350°F. Fry shallots, stirring often, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Using a fine-mesh sieve or spider, transfer shallots to paper towels to drain; season with salt. Remove pot from heat if chicken hasn’t finished roasting yet.
As soon as chickens are done, remove from oven and lightly dab with paper towels to remove as much moisture from the underside as possible (this will prevent them from spattering too much when you put them in the hot oil). Reheat shallot oil to 350°F if needed. Working with 1 half at a time and maintaining oil temperature between batches, fry chickens, skin side down, until skin is crisp and deeply browned, 6–8 minutes. Transfer to clean wire racks as you go; season lightly with salt.
Meanwhile, combine potatoes and 2 Tbsp. salt in another large pot and pour in cold water to cover by 1". Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until potatoes are very tender when pierced with the tip of a paring knife, 10–15 minutes, depending on size of potatoes. Drain and return potatoes to the same pot. Gently press down on potatoes to break up slightly. Add 1/3 cup reserved garlic oil, season with salt, and toss to combine.
Transfer potatoes to a small platter. Drizzle with some more garlic oil. Cut chicken halves into pieces and arrange on a large platter. Drizzle chicken with some garlic oil, then sprinkle dill and fried shallots over. Serve with any remaining garlic oil alongside.
Notes: Quickly shallow-frying the chicken halves in shallot oil after they’ve been roasted locks in their juices and yields beautifully crispy, golden-brown skin. Served with garlicky boiled potatoes and topped with crunchy fried shallots and lots of fresh dill, this dish is perfect with some fresh fall greens.
HOW TO CUT UP A WHOLE CHICKEN
Cutting up a whole chicken may seem like an intimidating process, but it’s a handy technique to learn. For one thing, cutting up a chicken yourself is economical since you aren’t paying for the labor to have someone cut up the chicken for you. If a recipe calls for four split breasts, you can simply butcher two whole chickens and save the things, wings, and drumsticks for another recipe. Second, butchering your own chicken ensures that the parts are the right size and properly butchered, which is not always the case with the prepackaged pieces you buy at the store.
Start cutting where the leg attaches to the breast. Pop leg joint out of its socket with your hands, then continue cutting through to detach leg from body. Note: Cutting off somewhat awkward leg quarters first makes it easier to butcher the rest of the chicken properly.
Cut each leg in to 2 pieces – drumstick and thigh – by slicing through joint, marked by thin line of fat. Note: Some recipes may use the whole leg quarters, but most often you’ll want to separate the drumsticks and thighs.
Flip chicken over and remove wings by slicing through each wing joint. Then cut through cartilage around wingtip to remove and discard. Note: Most ecipes calling for a whole butchered chicken don’t utilize the wings since they’re far smaller and less meaty than the other pieces, but you can use them for making stock.
Turn chicken on its side and, using kitchen shears, remove back. Note: The back of a chicken has almost no meat, and the bone only gets in the way of butchering the breast. However, the backbone, like the wings, is good to use when making stock.
Flip breast skin side down and, using chef’s knife, cut in half through breast plate, which is marked by think white line of cartilage. Note: Split breasts are perhaps the most common cut of chicken. Using a good chef’s knife if key for this step.
Flip each breast piece over and cut in half crosswise. Note: The whole split breasts are fairly large, so cutting each split breast in half crosswise speeds up the cooking time. You’ll need to do this for recipes that call for a whole chicken cut into eight pieces such as fried chicken.
Notes: Courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated Meat Book (2014)
1 whole (3-4 lbs) chicken, thawed
1 cup full-fat yogurt
2 tbsp avocado oil (olive oil okay)
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp achiote/annatto powder (for color, optional)
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp kashmiri red chili powder
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp ground cloves
1 sweet onion, sliced
1 batch basmati rice
1 lemon, cut into wedges
Break the chicken down: cut out the backbone, the cut away the thighs and legs. Cut and split the breasts down the center. Remove all of the skin from the chicken, except for the wings because that’s basically impossible. Cut each breast into three chunks – one chunk that has the wing and some breast meat, and the other two should be cut from the remaining breast piece. You should have six breast pieces, two legs, and two thighs. Make ½”-deep scores across the meat, every two inches or so (or about two scores per piece) — this will help the marinade penetrate the meat. Save the backbone for a future broth-making adventure.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the yogurt, oil, and all of the spices and stir until they are well-mixed. Toss the chicken into the bowl and toss until the chicken is evenly coated. Transfer to a resealable plastic bag and marinate overnight.
Set up your grill for direct, medium-high heat cooking (you should be able to hold your hand about 5″ over the grill grates for about 3 seconds). Place the chicken on the grill, bone-side down, and grill for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken over and grill until the breast pieces reach 145F and the thigh pieces reach 160F, about 10 more minutes. Rest for 5 minutes, then serve.
Notes: This recipe works well with 8 individual pieces (split breasts, chicken thighs, drumsticks) butchering of a whole chicken. You can also just spatchcock (remove the backbone) the chicken and grill it as-is, although the marinade will not as easily penetrate the meat. I like breaking down a whole chicken because it’s economical, leaves you with the most surface area for the marinade, and lets everyone fight for their favorite piece of chicken.