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This is a unique recipe for a deboned, pan-roasted chicken, and it's never failed to be a crowd-pleaser for me. I learned it from a good friend and great chef, Peter Ireland, and it's his variation on a recipe by James Beard Award-winning chef Ana Sortun. The deboning takes a bit of practice but, if you're anything like me, you'll find it to be kind of fun once you get used to it. Once deboned, each half of the bird is weighed down as it browns, compressing the layers of white and dark meat, and then finished in the oven.
Choosing a Bird
If you have never deboned a chicken, I'd recommend beginning with a relatively small bird, perhaps something between 2.5 and 3.5 pounds. With a larger chicken you're dealing with more flesh, obviously, and it can all become rather unwieldy as you try to concentrate on the bones. The bonus is that a smaller chickens are typically more flavorful, as they tend to be younger and, in a lot of cases, pasture raised. You'll likely pay a little extra, at least on a per-pound basis, but therein lies some portion control as well. The one I'm using here is very small, about 2.5 pounds.
Remove the Wishbone
The first thing you'll want to do is remove the wishbone, which otherwise can get in the way of the breast cleanly coming away from the breast bone. Locate the wishbone, near the opening of the cavity at the top of the chicken. You should be able to feel it running along the sides of the opening, at the top of each breast.
Use the tip of your knife to cut along each side of the wishbone until you have freed both ends. At this point you should be able to pull the top of the bone out as well.
Remove the Breast
Begin by cutting along the breast bone with the knife blade angled slightly toward the bone. As the breast comes off the bone it should be more like the knife is 'scraping' along the bone instead of cutting the breast away. The flesh should strip away from the bone very easily, and you may even be able to use the dull side of the knife blade.
Once the breast is removed from the bone, only the skin should be attaching it to the rest of the chicken. If the tender (or "fillet") is fully separated at this point, set it aside. It will be added back in later.
Debone the Drumstick
Holding the leg in one hand and the thigh in the other, fold upwards until you feel a break at the joint.
Use the tip of your knife to carefully cut through the connective tissue, fully separating the thigh and leg bones.
If the leg side of the joint is not yet free, cut just enough of the muscle to reveal it.
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Use the dull side of the knife, again angled toward the bone, to scrape the muscle away from the bone. It should be easy to quickly strip the bone clean, though you may need to switch to the sharp side of the blade if you come across any more connective tissue. When you reach the joint at the bottom of the leg, simply hold the now inside-out leg muscle with one hand and pull the bone away with the other.
Debone the Thigh
Holding the thigh in one hand and the body in the other, snap the joint that connects the thigh to the rest of the body, and then use the tip of your knife to carefully cut through the remaining connective tissue. The thigh bone should now be independent, attached only to the thigh muscle. Use your the knife to scrape the thigh bone away, being careful to cut as little of the thigh muscle as possible.
Remove the Connective Tissue and Prepare to Cook
Half of your chicken should now be boneless, and you can now remove it from the rest of the body by cutting the skin along the backbone.
It's a good idea to remove what you can of the remaining connective tissue. Though this is not strictly necessary, the more you take out, the better the texture of your finished product. Most of the tendons will be in the thigh and leg area, and if you turn the leg inside out you will see several of these tendons. They are slippery and difficult to hold down, even if you have decent fingernails, so try using the dull side of a second paring knife or some other implement, such as a pair of kitchen shears, to pin the tendon securely to the cutting board. Then, use the dull end of the other knife to scrape the tendon away from the meat. It should come away pretty easily.
When you've decided your chicken is ready to cook, liberally salt the meat side and the skin side, and then fold in half so that the dark meat of the leg and thigh are on one side and light meat of the breast is on the other. The skin should be largely intact and still in one continuous piece (see photos).
Brown and Roast
After preheating your oven to 400 degrees, use just enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom of a large oven-proof skillet (preferably cast iron, though stainless steel also works well) and heat the skillet on medium to medium-high, until the oil is shimmering. Add the chicken and cook until one side is browned and crispy, usually about two minutes. After you flip to brown the other side, season the now crispy side with your choice of herbs, and then rest something heavy and oven-proof, such as a grill press or another iron skillet (shown here), on top of the chicken. This compresses the layers of dark and white meat, causing the chicken to cook a little more quickly and evenly. It also makes the finished product look pretty cool, and it makes slicing and serving easier as well.
Once both sides are browned, add herbs to the still unseasoned side, put the weight back onto the chicken, and then roast. Finishing could take anywhere from 10-20 minutes, depending on the size of your bird, so carefully monitor it and remove when the internal temperature registers 160 degrees. Transfer to a cutting board and rest for 10-15 minutes.
Use a sharp knife so that each piece has a consistent layer of cleanly sliced skin. Some pieces will be almost entirely white meat, while others will be a nice mixture between breast and leg/thigh. Distribute equitably among your guests, sit back, and accept their effusive praise in stride. They will be as astounded by your humility as they are by your chicken.
Though this is best served right after slicing, it also holds up quite well when it is cold, as a component to a hearty lunch salad, for instance. In either case, I recommend pairing it with a Californian pinot noir or a Cru Beaujolais on the lighter side (Brouilly, Chiroubles, or Fleurie).
There are innumerable options for seasoning your deboned chicken as it roasts, so you should use whatever savory herbs you'd like. Here are a few options I've tried, and they've all worked beautifully:
- Herbes de Provence, a classic.
- Za'atar. Satisfaction guaranteed, if you can find the stuff. Sprinkle on the chicken liberally before roasting.
- Smoked paprika and ginger. Finely grate some fresh ginger and mix with smoked paprika powder and a small amount of oil, to make a paste. Spread a thin layer of the paste underneath the skin before cooking. This is massively flavorful.