Cooking a whole, delicious chicken

Cooking an entire chicken, especially if you haven’t done it before, can be daunting. Even the buying process can be frightening. Once you’ve done it a few times, though, it stops being traumatic and becomes incredibly simple (and extremely cost effective).


If you’re going to have a dinner party and really wish to impress your guests, I recommend following Harold McGee’s advice and “choose dry-processed or kosher poultry, preferably not shrink-wrapped. Their skin is noticeably thinner and crisps faster because it hasn’t been plumped with water.” If you have been told by a doctor to cut back on sodium, these types of birds are also what you should buy. A chicken from a farm that was killed that day and not processed at all is also a wonderful way to go.

Dry-processed chicken you might get from an organic or kosher market is typically more expensive than other wet-processed chicken because it takes about three days longer to get ready for sale. When I’m making a chicken for the family on a weeknight, I usually just buy a free-range chicken from my grocery store that was fed a vegetarian diet and is antibiotic and hormone free. Mostly, I get these chickens because it assuages my guilt, but part of me feels like they do taste better than caged chicken. Get what you want and what meets your budget.


I always start the preparation process by putting on a pair of disposable gloves. I highly recommend this step especially if you are not accustom to handling raw meat. With gloves on, you are usually more confident in your movements because there is less of an “ick” factor.

Next, I run the bird under water. This washes off extra salt and liquid (and sometimes stray feathers) that are on the skin of the bird. After rinsing, I pat the bird dry with paper towels and immediately dispose of the paper towels.

I prefer to remove the spine of the bird when I prepare a chicken so it can lay flat to cook for a more consistent heat. When you prepare a chicken this way, it is called a spatchcock. If you are unfamiliar with this preparation, I highly recommend watching this video.

I use a pair of poultry shears instead of a knife when cutting out the spine of the chicken. It makes getting through bones and joints easier for me, and I don’t ever worry about pieces of chicken flying up toward my face the way it sometimes works when I use a knife. After using them, I immediately put the shears into the dishwasher (that my husband has opened for me with his non-chicken cutting hands).


Warning: If you’re looking for a healthy chicken recipe, this recipe is not it. This recipe is blissfully delicious.

  • 1 whole frying chicken
  • 1 Tbl canola oil
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 shot cognac or dry red wine
  • 1 Tbl salted butter
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbl dried tarragon (or fresh, if you have it)
  • 1 tsp crushed rosemary
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 2 cups heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

In a large frying pan, heat 1 Tbl canola oil over medium-high heat (do not allow oil to reach smoke point). Place spatchcock back-side down in heated oil for 4 to 5 minutes. Flip spatchcock over and heat for another 4 to 5 minutes until skin is brown.

Move bird to a French or Dutch oven and briefly set aside.

Pour fat out of frying pan (wipe up any fat that has dripped onto side or bottom of frying pan) and return the pan to the stove top over medium heat. Pour in a shot of cognac and deglaze the pan. Add butter, black pepper, tarragon, rosemary, and thyme. Saute the spices briefly as butter melts, and then pour in the cream. Heat the pan mixture for a minute or two until warm throughout, and then pour over the bird in the French or Dutch oven.

Roast in oven for 45 minutes, uncovered. When finished, the bird’s legs and wings should be very floppy when you poke them with a pair of tongs. Serve immediately. You may wish to lightly salt and pepper the chicken and sauce to finish on the plate.

This recipe works well with sauteed mushrooms and roasted vegetables. Based on the size of your bird, it can serve anywhere between 2 and 4 people. It might also be the best tasting chicken you’ve ever had.

5 comments posted

  1. Posted by KateNonymous - 04/27/2011

    How do you get a free-range chicken that was fed an entirely vegetarian diet?

  2. Posted by Steph - 04/27/2011

    Use caution with this tip “A chicken from a farm that was killed that day and not processed at all is also a wonderful way to go.” In my experience, freshly killed chicken tends to cook up extremely tough and chewy. If possible let the meat rest for 1-2 days before cooking. If not possible, soaking in salt water can help (the longer the better).

  3. Posted by Erin Doland - 04/27/2011

    @KateNonymous — The feed the farmer gives the chickens is vegetarian. They may eat bugs from the grass, but the point is that they’re not eating feed with chicken or beef in it.

  4. Posted by Kate - 04/30/2011

    RE: rinsing chickens. I just learned from our infection control expert at work that you shouldn’t rinse chickens. Here’s a link that explains why:

  5. Posted by Tiffany - 05/03/2011

    My go-to “I want a nice meal but I only want to spend 5 minutes in the kitchen” chicken is the one Thomas Keller calls his favorite roast chicken, but “recipe” is kind of a strong word. Get the best chicken you can afford, tie the legs shut, salt the skin, and roast it at 450 for 20 minutes a pound. Prep takes 5 minutes. Then put a little butter and thyme on it after you carve. If I have 15 whole minutes to spend in the kitchen, I cut up some vegetables and roast them in the same oven for the last half hour or so that the chicken is cooking.

    I’ve had chicken dishes I’ve liked *better* (the dish Erin describes is pretty tasty), but this one is my favorite for days when dinner prep has gotten away from me all week and I want to feel like I’m not failing at feeding myself and my husband well.

Subscribe to this entry's comments

Comments are closed for this entry.