Here’s how to enjoy all the flavors and goodness of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner without cooking a 20-pound turkey. Butterflying a chicken takes only a few minutes and allows you to roast the chicken on a bed of stuffing, so that the stuffing soaks up all the delectable pan drippings. For the crispiest skin and best flavor, plan to butterfly and season the chicken the day before roasting or early that morning.
- 1 whole Smart chicken (3 1/2 to 4 pounds)
- 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika, preferably sweet
- Sausage-Herb Stuffing
Butterfly the chicken: Set the chicken breast-side down on a cutting board. Using poultry shears, kitchen scissors, or a sturdy knife, cut down along one side of the backbone, starting at the neck and cutting through the ribs and all the way down the entire length. Repeat along the other side of the backbone, so the backbone comes away in a narrow strip, about 1 1/2-inches wide. Reserve the backbone for making stock (or discard). Pull off and discard any fat attached to the underside of the chicken. Flip the chicken over so it’s breast-side up. With the heels of your hands, press heavily on the breastbone to flatten it.
Pre-season the chicken: Combine the salt, pepper, and paprika in a small bowl, and sprinkle evenly over both sides of the chicken, being sure to season around the joints and all the way to the tips of the drumsticks. Place the chicken on a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, for 8 to 24 hours.
Heat the oven to 425°F. Let the chicken sit at room temperature for about 40 minutes while you prepare the stuffing (link to Sausage Herb Stuffing).
Grease or butter a 9- by 13-inch roasting pan or baking sheet. Pile the stuffing in the center of the pan, approximating the shape of the butterflied chicken. Set the chicken on top, doing your best to tuck the stuffing underneath. Don’t worry if some bits of the stuffing are exposed—they will roast up to be delightfully crispy.
Roast the chicken until the skin is crisp and well browned, the juices run almost clear when you prick the breast, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thigh (without touching bone) registers 170 degrees (about 55 minutes). Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes. (If the kitchen is cool, tent a piece of foil over top; otherwise, leave it uncovered to keep the skin crisp.)
Transfer the chicken to a carving board. Carve into 8 pieces, by first halving the chicken straight down the center of the breastbone. Next cut each whole leg (thigh and drumstick) away from each breast half and cut the legs into thighs and drumsticks. Cut each breast half crosswise in half, leaving the wing assembly attached to the upper portion. Serve the stuffing with the chicken.
Pairing: Supple red with a bit of fruitiness, such as a pinot noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon or one from the Russian River Valley in California. For white, try something big, like a well-oaked chardonnay.