Ahead of Thanksgiving, I like to make a few “Sunday Supper” meals—the kind of menu that takes a little extra time or effort—because it gives me something to focus on besides worrying about Thanksgiving, and it also gives me a chance to do a trial run on potential new side dishes before the big day. You know what they say about experimenting on Thanksgiving, right?
This spatchcocked and roasted chicken can hold its own next to even the most elegant of side dishes you might be auditioning, and the best thing about it is that its lovely presentation takes minimal effort. I wouldn’t have believed it several years ago when I first saw a magazine cover with an image of a roasted chicken laid-out flat on a platter, and I remember thinking, maybe one day I’ll be able to cook like that. Little did I know how easy it is, and after my first attempt at it for a Passover meal a few years ago, I’ve been hooked.
From a technical standpoint, the spatchcocking (or, butterflying, if you wish) of the bird serves an important purpose by putting the whole chicken on the same level for roasting. After 45 minutes in the oven, you won’t have the concern about the breast meat being overdone before the thighs are cooked through because the cavity of the bird is essentially eliminated. The breast of the bird is not sitting several inches higher than the rest of the body, and that means the heat is applied more evenly. Thus, the chicken cooks more evenly.
And the flavor comes easy for this chicken, too, because the buttermilk does all the work. Most often, when you hear the words chicken and buttermilk in the same sentence, it’s probably in context of a recipe that involves frying. At least, that’s how it usually works here in the South. But this oven-roasted recipe is lighter, easier to prep and cook, and so, so flavorful. Buttermilk, which is acidic to begin with, has special enzymes that help break down the proteins of meat. When that breakdown occurs, it opens the door for flavors to go into the meat.
During six hours of marinating, the chicken soaks up the flavors of the herbs and seasonings I add to the buttermilk, including kosher salt, white pepper, garlic and onion powders, paprika and dried thyme.
When I shared my plans last week for making homemade stock for Thanksgiving gravy, I mentioned a tip for adding some chicken parts to the simmering broth, most notably the backbone, which I removed from a whole chicken with a technique called “spatchcocking.” This step is not necessary for roasting the bird, but I like it for the evenness of roasting that results. And as I explained in the stock post, I needed some more poultry parts for my stock. Because we don’t eat it, the backbone doesn’t add much value when it’s left on the chicken, but there’s a world of flavor in those bones when you simmer them down in a stock, so this is a smart way to “waste nothing.”
Removing the backbone is easy. You need a good set of kitchen scissors, and a little bit of gumption to crack through the ribs that are attached to the bone along both sides. Start on the neck end of the chicken, where the backbone is easy to recognize. Cut all the way down one side, then the other, and then lift the bone away from the body and cut it off at the tailbone.
If you don’t need the backbone, you can discard it; otherwise, follow my lead and add it to the pot for your next batch of stock. All that collagen in the bone will really amp up the flavor and richness of any soup or gravy you make with it. You can even freeze it for later, if you aren’t ready to make stock just yet. Pat the bird dry with paper towels and place it in a heavy-duty plastic freezer bag with a zipper top. Pour in the seasoned buttermilk mixture and seal up the bag, squeezing out as much air as possible to force the brine up around every part of the chicken. Stash it in the refrigerator for about six hours, and let the buttermilk work its magic.
After marinating, dry the chicken with paper towels and rub a small amount of olive oil all over the skin of the bird to protect it from drying out. Let it rest while the oven preheats to 400° F, and roast it for about 45 minutes, until the skin is golden brown all over and the internal temperature is 160° F. It looks beautiful and the buttermilk keeps it nice and juicy on the inside.
I’ve put this buttermilk roasted chicken in the Sunday Supper category, not for any difficulty but for the marinating time that’s required for tenderizing and flavoring. Let me know in the comments what side dishes you’d like to see with this yummy chicken.
Buttermilk Roasted Chicken
You don't need any special skills to spatchcock a chicken, as long as you have a good pair of kitchen scissors. And this buttermilk brine brings a world of flavor into the chicken with almost no effort.
- 3.5-pound chicken, preferably free-range
- 2 cups real, cultured buttermilk
- 1 heaping tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp. onion powder
- 1/2 tsp. white pepper
- 1/2 tsp. sweet Spanish paprika
- 1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
- 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- Remove the giblet package and neck parts from the inside of the chicken. Use kitchen scissors to cut down both sides of the backbone and set it aside with the innards to be simmered into a stock.
- Open up the chicken, essentially “unfolding” it, and lay it breast side-up on a sheet pan. Use the heel of your hand to press firmly onto the breast of the bird until it cracks. This will help the chicken lay flatter when it is time to roast it.
- Add buttermilk to a 2-quart bowl. Combine the salt and other dry seasonings in a small bowl, and then stir the spice blend into the buttermilk until the salt is dissolved.
- Place the chicken in a gallon-size freezer bag with a zip top. Pour the buttermilk into the bag and seal it, gently squeezing the air out of the bag as you go. This will ensure the brine covers every surface of the chicken. Wash and dry the bowl and place the bagged chicken into it (just in case the bag leaks) and refrigerate it for about six hours.
- Remove the chicken from the buttermilk brine, allowing the excess to drip off. Do not rinse the bird, but pat it dry with paper towels and lay it, breast side-up, on a baking rack placed over a rimmed sheet pan. Rub the olive oil all over the skin of the chicken and sprinkle it with kosher salt and black pepper. Let the chicken rest at room temperature for an hour before roasting.
- Preheat oven to 400° F, with rack in the center position. Roast the chicken without convection for 45 minutes, until the skin is golden brown all over and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reaches 160° F. Rest chicken for 15 minutes before carving and serving.