I’m not sure when I veered off the path of making my own roast whole chicken and instead fell into the habit of picking one up at the grocery store. It must have happened gradually while in the blur of raising kids but it was a contradiction to my personal philosophy that homemade is always better. In the interest of convenience I was able to overlook that many times a pre-roasted chicken tends to be overdone and dry. By turning over the roasting to someone else, I had not only given up control on the doneness, but also the quality of the meat and the seasonings.
The inspiration for getting me back on the path to roasting chicken were the split whole chicken halves I spotted in the meat case of one of the many grocery stores I frequent. They would streamline the process to make it simpler and faster for several reasons. The two split halves can easily be marinated to impart fresh rosemary and lemon zest flavors in the skin and meat. Searing it skin side down in a skillet gets the browning going right away then laying it flat on a baking sheet the meat cooks more quickly and evenly in the oven. And once roasted, cutting the halves into pieces for serving is much easier than wrestling with the whole chicken.
For this inescapably busy time of year, I find this roast chicken to be invaluable. Marinating it the night before does half of the work for you. The next day, the pan searing is quick before transferring it to the oven where it’s left to roast. It’s heavenly for a weekday family meal or a planned evening with guests. Any leftovers can be sliced the next day and layered with mayonnaise, salt, pepper and lettuce in a sandwich. Other options are tossing shredded pieces with greens in a salad or nibbling on whole pieces straight from the refrigerator.
Not all grocery stores carry split whole chickens in their meat case but you can ask the meat department to cut it in half for you. I explain how to do that in the note of the recipe if you want to do it yourself.
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 (3-1/2 to 4 pound) whole chicken, cut in half (ask the meat department to do this for you or see the note below to do this yourself)
- Whisk together all ingredients except chicken. Put each split chicken in a re-sealable plastic bag; divide marinade evenly between bags. Seal bags, removing as much air as possible and massage marinade around chicken to coat evenly. Refrigerate overnight.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. convectional or 425 degrees F. conventional.
- Remove chicken from marinade, discarding marinade. Heat a large heavy bottom skillet (I use my cast iron skillet) over medium heat. Once heated, put chicken skin side down in the skillet and cook until browned, about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet or roasting pan, skin side up (chicken halves can be browned in two batches if using a small skillet; wipe skillet with a paper towel between batches). Sprinkle chickens with salt and pepper.
- Roast until chicken is browned, meat is cooked through and juices run clear (an instant reading thermometer when inserted in the meat should read 165 degrees F.) about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and allow sitting 15 minutes to “rest” (this allows the juices to settle in the meat so they don’t run out when chicken is cut). Cut chicken into pieces, following the outline of the leg, wing, thigh and breast.
I like to wear disposable gloves when cutting a whole chicken.
If there are giblets inside of the chicken, remove and discard or save for another use. Place chicken on a flat work surface, breast side down. Using kitchen sheers (scissors) or a sharp knife, cut closely along each side of the chicken backbone from one end to the other; save backbone to make chicken stock or discard. Turn chicken over laying it flat and with breast side up; cut evenly through the breast from one end to the other.