A Good Appetite: Splaying the bird and roasting it at high heat ensures crunchy, shiny, mahogany skin. Recipe: Splayed Roast Chicken with Caramelized Ramps, Garlic and Capers

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Does anyone really need another recipe for roast chicken?

Probably not, but I collect them anyway, trying out each permutation with the zeal of the obsessed. Would this one give me crispier skin, a juicer breast or more soft and supple dark meat?

Usually the answer is no.

But every once in a while, I find a keeper, a fresh approach to that age-old technique that does yield a better bird. This recipe is one of them.

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It’s really not a whole new recipe unto itself, just a few tweaks on a classic: chicken roasted in a hot cast-iron skillet.

The premise of the original technique is that by heating a cast-iron skillet in a 500-degree oven, then placing the bird in the pan so its thighs make contact with the surface, the dark meat will finish cooking at the same time as the white. This is because the thighs, which are instantly seared by the cast iron, get a jump-start on the breast, which is not seared and cooks more slowly, staying moist.

I’ve tried it and it works very well. And it’s one of the easiest ways to roast a chicken if you own a cast-iron skillet large enough to hold the bird (an inexpensive 12-inch skillet works well and is not a bad thing to have on hand, anyway).

My change is to splay the chicken’s legs, spread-eagling them. This exposes more of the dark meat to the searing pan, cooking the bird more quickly and, I think, that much more evenly. (Don’t confuse splaying with spatchcocking, which means cutting out the bird’s backbone; all you do here is snip the skin and pull the legs away from the body.)

I also keep the oven at 500 degrees for the entire cooking time, which ensures crunchy, shiny, mahogany skin. If you have time to salt the chicken a few hours ahead and store it uncovered in the fridge, which allows the skin to dry out a bit, it gets even crispier.

I’ve made splayed roasted chicken a half-dozen times, and with a 4 ½-pound bird it takes about 45 minutes. A 3-pound bird will cook even more quickly, in about 30 to 35 minutes.

A plump, moist, juicy chicken with a crisp skin is a poem of a meal on its own, needing no other embellishment.

But that never stops me. Here, I added ramps, sweet garlic and salty capers to the bottom of the pan. They quickly caramelize into a bright oniony sauce that’s lovely with the succulent meat. It’s a rare bird indeed.


Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

1 4 ½-pound whole chicken, patted dry

2 teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 bunch fresh ramps (6 ounces)

1 lemon, quartered

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

5 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

1 tablespoon capers

1. Rub the chicken inside and out with salt and pepper. If you’ve got time, do this 2 to 3 hours ahead and refrigerate the bird uncovered. Otherwise, let it rest uncovered at room temperature while the oven heats.

2. Place a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet in the oven and heat to 500 degrees for 45 minutes. If you salted the chicken in advance, take it out of the refrigerator so it can warm to room temperature.

3. Meanwhile, prep the ramps: trim the hairy bottoms and remove the outer layer of skin. Separate the leaves from the bulbs, rinse both gently and pat dry. Cut any fat bulbs (wider than a pencil) in half lengthwise. Tear the leaves into large pieces.

4. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut the skin connecting the legs to the body. Splay the thighs open until you feel the joint pop on each side. Place 2 lemon wedges inside the chicken.

5. Carefully transfer chicken, breast-side up, to the hot skillet. Press down on the legs so they rest flat on the bottom of the pan. Drizzle the bird with the oil. Roast for 30 minutes. Toss ramp bulbs (not leaves), garlic and capers into the skillet. Stir to coat them with pan juices. Roast for 5 minutes more, then stir again. Continue cooking until ramps are tender and chicken is no longer pink, 5 to 15 minutes more (for a total cooking time of 40 to 50 minutes).

6. Remove chicken from oven and stir ramp leaves into the pan until just wilted. Let chicken rest for 5 minutes, then serve with the pan juices and ramps, garlic and capers, seasoning everything with juice from the remaining lemon wedges, if desired.

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