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Hunger Management

Butterfly the bird for an easy roast

Spatchcocking or opening up a chicken like a book reduces cooking time to about 30 minutes

There are days when I get home from work so bone tired, the thought of cooking makes me break out in hysterical laughter.

Why bang pots and pans when I can go to the hawker centres near my home and get a quick dinner or, even better, order food via a food delivery app?

And yet, there are nights when I do not want hawker food or fast food or lacklustre pasta, which, by the time it gets to my place, is not what I would call edible.

My calendar is planned in advance and somewhat set in stone. Each week, I mark down days where I do not eat out for work and I stick to the plan.

In the morning before work or at lunch, I go to the supermarket and pick out a chicken and some vegetables, and they sit in the office fridge.

When I get home, I'm ready to make a quick roast chicken dinner.

You must think I'm insane. Chicken takes at least an hour to cook, everybody knows that.

Well, not if you butterfly or spatchcock or open it up like a book and roast it in a very hot oven.

Instead of cooking the vegetables separately, I throw them in the roasting pan mixed with olive oil, salt and pepper and they act as a rack for the chicken. And just like that, I have a one-pan meal.

This is the third recipe for roast chicken I have given in this column.

By far the most difficult is the one where you roast a whole bird intact. Some recipes call for the chicken to be flipped during cooking. Wrestling with hot chicken is not fun and no matter what you do, the breast will dry out before the thighs are properly cooked.

Sitting the chicken on an opened can of beer is a great method, right up there with this spatchcocking one.

What you will need is a pair of sturdy kitchen shears, to cut off the feet, neck and head and then to cut out the backbone.

Then it is a matter of breaking the breast bone and the chicken, laid out like an open book, gets seasoned, flavoured and oiled and then sits pretty on top of the vegetables to roast.

Because the bird is laid out flat, the heat browns it evenly and you can always count on crisp skin.

I have gone for basic in this recipe, with just salt, pepper, thyme and olive oil. But I have also spooned pesto, sambal oelek or garlic and herb butter under the skin.

Gently separate the skin from the breast, spoon the flavourings in and massage it so it is spread over the drumsticks too.

All this takes work, however, and a delicate touch. And there is nothing wrong with just salt, pepper and fresh herbs.

In supermarkets, look for a bird that weighs about 1.4kg. At FairPrice ones, this corresponds to what it calls a large chicken. That is good for four normal appetites.

Now, what to stick under the chicken as it cooks?

I am in a mood for potatoes so I use them in my roast chicken. Get small potatoes with thin skin. In supermarkets, they can be called petite, baby or new potatoes. Some are pink-skinned, others have the usual yellow-beige skins.

Pre-roasting them for 10 minutes before adding the bird allows them to cook through fully. Nothing is worse than biting into a spud that is not quite cooked in the centre.

If using chunks of pumpkin or sweet potato, the pre-roasting will not be necessary.

I have used zucchini, yellow squash and broccoli florets and all work well. Peppers are very delightful. Roasting concentrates the flavour so they are sweet and slightly smoky from the high heat.

Resting the bird after it comes out of the oven is essential - the juices settle down during the waiting time.

Then using those trusty - and clean - kitchen shears, cut the chicken into two dark meat and two white meat portions, divide the vegetables among four plates, add the chicken and serve.

There'll be pan juices too, delicious spooned over the vegetables.

Crisp skin, meat that squirts juice when you cut into a piece and roasted vegetables - always better than takeout.

Since I usually cook for one, that investment in time yields not only a terrific dinner, but also leftovers for lunch or dinner for the next three days.

Come Christmas, I am going to roast a spatchcocked turkey.

My turkey-hating parents will roll their eyes, but maybe they'll come around.

www.facebook.com/tanhsuehyun


MAKE IT YOURSELF: SPATCHCOCKED CHICKEN

INGREDIENTS

One 1.4kg chicken

8 to 10 sprigs thyme

500g new, baby or petite potatoes

1 1/4 tsp sea salt, divided

Freshly ground black pepper

2 Tbs olive oil, divided

1 large zucchini or yellow squash, about 400g

1 large red bell pepper, 250 to 300g

METHOD

1. Thirty minutes before cooking the chicken, take it out of the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 230 deg C.

2. Pick the leaves off the sprigs of thyme. To do this, gently run your thumb and index finger from the top of the stem to the bottom. Place the thyme in a small bowl and set aside.

3. Halve the potatoes and place in a mixing bowl. Add 1/4 tsp sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, one third of the thyme, 2 tsp of the olive oil. Mix to coat the potatoes with the oil and seasonings. Pour into a baking dish large enough to hold the chicken and spread it out into one layer. Place in the oven for 10 minutes.

4. Cut the zucchini or squash into thick rounds, halving some if they are too large. Place in the bowl which held the potatoes. Cut the bell pepper into quarters, remove the stem and seeds, cut each wedge into two or three pieces and place in the bowl. Add 1/4 tsp sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, one third of the thyme and 2 tsp of the olive oil. Mix well.

5. Place the chicken on a tray or cutting board. Using a sturdy pair of kitchen sheers, cut off the head, neck and feet. Save to make stock or discard.


ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

6. Turn the bird over so the breast side is down. Using the kitchen shears, cut down one side of the backbone and then cut down the other side (above). Save the back for stock or discard. Open up the chicken and remove any bits of liver and snip off the thick clumps of fat at the tail end of the bird.


ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

7. Flip the bird over and press down hard on the breast with one hand above the other (above). You should hear a crack. Rinse the chicken under running water and pat very dry with paper towels. Rub 3/4 tsp salt, the remaining 2 tsp oil and freshly ground black pepper over the chicken.

8. When the potatoes have roasted for 10 minutes, remove from the oven. Close the oven door. Scatter the squash and peppers in between the potatoes. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables and scatter over the remaining thyme leaves. Roast for 35 minutes, uncovered. Remove from oven, rest for 10 minutes.

9. Using a clean pair of kitchen shears, cut the bird up into quarters and place each on a plate. Divide the vegetables among the four plates, spoon some pan juices over the vegetables and serve.

Serves four

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 03, 2016, with the headline 'Butterfly the bird for an easy roast'. Print Edition | Subscribe