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Skillet chicken

All Photos: Kate Williams

Cast Iron Skillet Chicken


You can make roast chicken on a weeknight -- really!

Even those of us who live to master project recipes every weekend can falter when it comes to weeknight cooking. One-pot Southern cast iron skillet recipes, however, can come to the rescue. With simple ingredient lists and always speedy clean-up, these skillet suppers will be your new weeknight heroes. 

Let's start with roast chicken with greens. True, roast chicken isn't the fastest recipe around, but, by making use of a few tricks, and by cooking your side dish as the bird rests, you can certainly pull this dish off on a weeknight. Here's how.

First step: Spatchcocking, a funny name, but highly useful step. To spatchcock is simply to butterfly a bird and smash it flat. The easiest way to accomplish this step is to grab a pair of sharp, heavy-duty kitchen shears and cut out the bird's backbone. (You can do this with a knife, too, but it requires a bit of chicken gymnastics to do it safely, so we recommend sticking with scissors.) While you've got the scissors out, snip the breast bone, right near where the neck used to be, to make the smashing easier. Flip the bird to it is skin side-up and press on the breasts to splay the bird flat. The legs should twirl out to the side and lay flat. If you'd like, you can also take the wing tips and slip them behind the top of the breasts to protect them from burning and, hey, just look cool.

Speaking of looking cool, here's how to use that skillet to make the prettiest pizza

Next, salt and rest. (This here's the only optional part of the recipe, by the way. It'll make your chicken way juicier and more flavorful, but you can totally skip it if it's already 6 p.m.) Simply place the chicken on a rack set on a baking sheet and rub way more kosher salt all over it than you think is necessary. I use about two tablespoons. Flip the chicken so that it is skin side-up and let it rest at room temperature for 45 minutes to an hour. The chicken will start to look wet, as the salt pulls moisture from the meat, and then, as time goes on, it will suck all those flavorful juices back up into the chicken. Once the chicken looks dry again, you're ready to move on. (And yes, you can cheat and pat it dry if there's still a bit of moisture left.) 
While the chicken is salting, crank up the oven to 475 degrees. Yep, that sounds high, but trust me — this hot oven will give you crisp skin and perfectly cooked chicken in a snap. Pull out two cast iron skillets, or one skillet and another large, heavy pot. Wrap the bottom of the second skillet or heavy pot with foil — this will be your secret weapon. 

Set the skillet you're going to cook with on a burner and crank up the heat to medium-high. Let the skillet sit there for about five minutes to get it good and hot. Add some oil and swirl it around. Now place the chicken in the hot skillet, skin side-down. Try to land the chicken so as much of the skin hits the hot pan as possible. Place that secret weapon/second skillet on top of the chicken, foil side-down, and press hard to smash the skin into the hot oil. (Listen to that beautiful sizzle.) Let the whole thing sit there and and start to cook for a few minutes, and then transfer the whole mess to the oven. 

Let roast until the skin is crisp and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Now carefully remove the secret weapon skillet and then use a couple of pairs of tongs to flip the chicken skin side-up. Return the chicken to the oven, and continue to roast, uncovered, until the breast meat hits about 150 degrees, about 20 more minutes. Boom — a chicken roasted in less than an hour.

Learn how to properly care for your prized cast iron

Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let it rest while you saute up your greens. Pour off all of the drippings from the skillet into a small bowl. Skim off around a tablespon of fat from the top of the drippings and return that to the skillet. Go ahead and discard any remaining fat from the drippings, but save the defatted juices for later.

Place the skillet over medium heat and add a few sliced cloves of garlic. Cook those, stirring, until soft, and then add a big bunch of chopped kale, along with those reserved juices. You can also use other hearty greens here, such as collards or mustard greens, or even a mixture. Season as needed (you may not need any salt as the reserved juices will be quite salty) and cook until soft. I like to add a little squeeze of fresh lemon to finish, but you can add a drizzle of apple cider vinegar, or even balsamic vinegar, if you'd like. 

At this point, your chicken should be properly rested, so it's ready to cut up and serve. Lucky for you, spatchocked chicken is ultra-easy to carve: Simply cut off the legs and slice the breast meat in half, straight down the breast bone. Done. 

Roast Chicken Under a Brick with Kale
Note: If you're in a hurry, you can skip the initial resting time after salting the chicken.

Serves: 4 to 6
Hands-on time: 35 minutes
Total time: About 2 hours

1 (4- to 5-pound) whole chicken
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 large bunch green curly kale, stemmed and chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Using heavy-duty kitchen shears, cut the backbone from the chicken. Snip the breast bone, and then flip the chicken so it is skin side-up on a cutting board. Press down firmly on the breast to press the chicken flat. Twist the wing tips behind the breasts to secure. Using paper towels, pat the chicken very dry and place on a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet. Rub 2 tablespoons of the salt all over the skin and underside of the chicken. Let sit at room temperature, skin side-up, for 45 minutes.

When you're ready to roast the chicken, heat the oven to 475 degrees. Wrap the bottom of a heavy skillet or Dutch oven with aluminum foil.

Place a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Let heat for 5 minutes. Add the olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Place the chicken, skin side-down, in the hot skillet. Place the foil-lined skillet on top of the chicken and press firmly to flatten the chicken into the skillet. Let cook until the skin begins to brown, 2 to 3 minutes.

Transfer to the oven and roast until the skin is deeply golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove the foil-lined skillet and carefully flip the chicken so that it is skin side-up. Continue to roast until the breast meat registers 150 degrees, about 20 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes.

While the chicken is resting, carefully pour the drippings in the pan into a small bowl. Skim off about 1 tablespoon of fat from the drippings and place in the hot skillet. Discard any additional fat in the bowl, reserving any juices.

Place the skillet over medium heat and add the garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 1 minute. Add the kale and the reserved juices. Season with salt and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the kale is tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Carve the chicken and serve with the kale.

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Author image

Kate Williams is the former editor-in-chief of Southern Kitchen. She was also the on-air personality on our podcast, Sunday Supper. She's worked in food since 2009, including a two-year stint at America’s Test Kitchen. Kate has been a personal chef, recipe developer, the food editor at a hyperlocal news site in Berkeley and a freelance writer for publications such as Serious Eats, Anova Culinary, The Cook’s Cook and Berkeleyside. Kate is also an avid rock climber and occasionally dabbles in long-distance running. She makes a mean peach pie and likes her bourbon neat.