Nothing beats a whole baked chicken in terms of taste and comfort. Ask many professional chefs what the most difficult thing to cook is and many will tell you that it is the simple roast chicken. It is very easy to mess up baking a whole chicken which is why when hiring new employees, chefs often ask them to cook a whole chicken as a test of their skills. Roasting chicken may sound easy, but in order to produce good results with moist and flavorful meat, the skills and attention to detail used by a cook are out in the open, leaving any flaws in the cook’s technique exposed and naked for all to see. With a few simple techniques, you can create the perfect baked whole chicken that will be good enough to pass the test.
One of the problems in baking a whole chicken is that a whole chicken is awkward in shape. The breast, which takes less time to cook and dries out easily, is more exposed to heat than the thighs and legs, which take longer to cook. Also, you don’t get even browning and crispy skin all over the bird by placing it breast side up in a roasting pan. Instead, a better way to bake a whole chicken is to remove the backbone. Removing the backbone of the chicken allows you to lay the bird flat on a roasting pan, creating a uniformly thick piece of meat, where all the skin is exposed to heat so that it can get brown and crispy. Removing the backbone is easy with a pair of kitchen shears. Simply place the bird with the backbone facing up and cut on either side of the backbone from the tail to the neck. Save the backbone and roast it alongside the rest of the chicken. After the backbone has been removed, place the chicken breast side up in the pan and then firmly press down on the breast to flatten out the chicken. At this point the bird is ready for seasoning.
Remove the chicken from the pan. Cut up an onion, 2 stalks of celery, and 2 peeled carrots into bite sized pieces. Strew the vegetables across the bottom of the pan. If desired, you can also add cloves of garlic. Toss the vegetables with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and then season with salt and pepper. Next, return the chicken to the pan. Rub the chicken on all sides with olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper. Next, sprinkle the chicken with fresh thyme.
Place the pan in an oven preheated to 400 degrees and bake until the skin is golden brown and crispy and the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Once the chicken has come up to temperature, remove it from the pan and tent it loosely with aluminum foil. Remove the vegetables from the pan and place them on a serving platter. Pour off any juices that are in the pan into a bowl and allow them to sit for a few minutes until the fat rises to the top. Skim off the fat and discard it. If you have one, a fat separator can also be used to remove the excess grease from the liquids. The chicken can now be cut into pieces by separating the thigh and the leg and then cutting the chicken breasts into two pieces. Also, remove the wings. Serve alongside the vegetables and the reserved sauce.
Baking a whole chicken by removing the backbone solves several problems with roasting a whole chicken and will provide excellent results for the home cook.