England has a real love affair with whole roast chicken. Especially on Sundays.
Personally, I’m not the greatest fan, as I find whole roast chicken often cooks unevenly. The legs need longer than the breasts, so by the time the legs are cooked, the breasts tend to be dry and overcooked.
I’m also no expert at carving whole birds into perfect slices. I’m working on that.
The solution? Spatchcock the chicken and flatten it out, then serve in chunks at the table rather than pretty pre-plated slices.
Spatchcocking a chicken is easier than it sounds: you basically cut out the backbone with a sharp pair of kitchen scissors, then push firmly on the chicken with the heel of your hand to flatten it out.
There’s plenty of helpful videos on the magical interweb that show you how to do this. But if it looks too daunting, you can ask your butcher to do it for you.
It’s an useful skill to have under your belt for preparing chicken or other poultry for the BBQ too. Not only does spatchcocking help it cook more evenly, it also massively speeds up the cooking time and makes for easier basting and spice-rubbing.
I don’t usually bother with skewers to keep the shape, but you may find it useful for the BBQ. Also, tuck the end bits of the legs under, as they may burn, and this helps the chicken to stay in its shape too.
My next step away from the Traditional British Roast, is that I’m dumping roast potatoes, plain veg and gravy. Nothing wrong with them, but I particularly love roast chicken on a succulent beany stew.This one is similar to the rustic ones that are popular in Tuscany and the South of France.
This simple bean stew makes a gorgeously wholesome meal in its own right too, served with hunks of crusty bread for dunking. For a vegetarian version, use a good vegetable stock and dump the chicken backbone. Obviously.
Spatchcock Lemon and Thyme Chicken on a Rustic Bean Stew (serves 4 – GF DF LC RSF)
You could fry off some lardons with the onion in the bean stew if you like, but it’s not essential.
1 whole chicken, spatchcocked, but keep the backbone
some fresh thyme sprigs
juice and rind of a lemon, plus a few extra slices for garnish if you like
rapeseed or olive oil
1 medium onion or 2 shallots, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed
1 small leek, finely sliced
2 ribs of celery, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and finely diced
500 ml good chicken stock (you may need a little more or less, use your judgement)
2 cans or a large jar of white beans such as haricot or cannellini, about 800-900 ml (I like Reflets de France Natural White Beans for this), drained and rinsed
150 gr cavolo nero or kale, thick ribs removed and torn into rough bite sized pieces
4-6 tomatoes, halved
Preheat the oven to 210 C.
Pick the leaves of a few thyme sprigs and mix with a few tbsp oil, the lemon juice and the lemon rind. Rub it all over the chicken on both sides. Season generously.
Place the chicken into an oven dish and roast for 30 mins.
Meanwhile, start the bean stew. Heat a little oil in a large sauté pan or casserole over medium heat.
Fry the onion for a couple of mins until translucent. Add the backbone, the carrot, celery, leek and the garlic and sauté for a few mins. You don’t want it to colour too much, so be gentle.
Add the stock and the thyme. Bring to a gentle simmer. Then add the cavolo nero and the beans. Season. Turn the heat to low and simmer uncovered for 20 mins or so.
Add the tomatoes to the dish with the chicken, season them and return the dish to the oven to roast for another 20 mins or so.
Then remove the tomatoes, roughly crush them and add them to the bean stew. Check the seasoning and continue to simmer, uncovered. Add more stock or water if the stew appears to be getting to dry.
Your chicken should also be cooked by now, and the juices should run clear. If and when so, remove the dish from the oven and cover it with a tent of aluminium foil to allow the chicken to rest for at least 10 mins.
Add any juices in the dish to a small sauce pan and set over medium-high heat on the hob to reduce. Check the seasoning.
Carve the chicken into individual portions by removing the legs and separating them into thighs and drumsticks, removing the breast and cutting them in 2-3 pieces, and removing the wings. Arrange on a large platter and pour over the reduced juices. Garnish with extra thyme and lemon slices if you like.
Divide the bean stew over deep plates and allow everyone to help themselves to their favourite pieces of chicken to top their stew at the table.
Thin out any left over stew with more stock. Remove any left over chicken from the bones and add to the stew. Reheat and serve as a hearty soup with crusty bread for lunch the next day.
The chicken bones can of course be used to make stock to freeze for next time.