In the summer we love to have family and friends join us for a casual meal outside. Usually that involves a barbeque of some sort, but I have to admit that I am a little burned out on grilling chicken on the barbeque. Some people have a real knack for how to grill chicken perfectly, but it usually involves standing like a sentry at the grill the entire time so that the chicken doesn’t get burned or over cooked. That’s just not me. So, I started searching for a different cooking method that comes up with a similar result.
There are many recipes out there extolling the virtues of cooking a whole butterflied chicken with a brick on top of it in the oven. I like the idea of cooking it in the oven since you can control the heat and you don’t have to “guard” it the entire cooking time. Chicken under a brick is a great way to cook a whole chicken in the oven. It starts by butterflying the chicken or “spatchcock” it, which is to flatten the chicken by removing its backbone. Doing this allows you to make the chicken all the same thickness. I wanted to try it without using the brick, so I decided to go a step further and remove the thigh and leg bone. When you do this, the breast meat and the thigh meat can cook at the same pace and eliminates the need for the brick.
First, start out with a whole chicken that is about 3 to 3 1/2 lbs. Ask the butcher to remove the backbone and remove the leg and thigh bones while leaving the skin of the chicken in tact. It will look a little weird, but well worth it. The most important step is to marinate the chicken for at least 3 or 4 hours. This will not only give it great flavor, but will make it juicy and moist. I have a great standby marinade that I use that is simple and usually things you have in the refrigerator – lemon, shallots, fresh thyme and olive oil. Easy.
I went back to my southern roots and used a cast iron skillet as my cooking vessel. When I was growing up I didn’t know there was any skillet other than cast iron. It is great at holding a very high heat and searing the meat. The oven needs to be very hot. Preheat it to about 475 degrees and heat the cast iron skillet on top of the stove until it is smoking hot. Once you have the chicken in the skillet, the entire cooking time is about 40 minutes, 20 minutes on each side with the final 2 or 3 minutes turning up the heat to broil with the skin side up to get the final crisping the way you like it.
I tried this recipe twice last week with a simple green salad and corn on the cob. My husband, Howie, thought it was the best chicken he had ever eaten. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Lemon & Thyme Butterflied Chicken in the Oven
1 – 3 to 3 1/2 lb. whole chicken, butterflied with the leg and thigh bones removed and skin side in tact (have your butcher do this for you)
2 tsp. lemon zest
3 lemons, juiced
1 large shallot, minced
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves roughly chopped
1/2 – 3/4 cup olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper
Zest the lemons before you juice them. Combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, shallot, fresh thyme, olive oil, and salt and pepper in a one gallon plastic zip lock bag. Seal the bag and shake well to combine all the ingredients. Put the butterflied chicken in the plastic bag with the marinade and make sure it is sealed tightly. Turn the bag over several times to make sure that the marinade covered the entire chicken. Put the marinating chicken bag on a plate and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, turning it once or twice during that time.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Heat a cast iron skillet on top of the stove until it is very hot. Remove the chicken from the marinade and place the chicken skin side down into the cast iron skillet and put the skillet immediately into the oven and cook for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken over and cook skin side up in the oven for 20 minutes . Check the crispiness of the skin and it you want it a little crispier, turn on the broiler and let it cook another 2 to 3 minutes, or until the skin is to your liking.
Remove the chicken from the oven to a cutting board and let it rest for about 5 to 10 minutes. Cut the chicken in half or into quarters and serve!