While blessed with many attributes, a roasted chicken has its drawbacks. One biggie is that it usually limits your guest list to about four people tops. But chickens are adaptable creatures and open to being flexible. One way to stretch a chicken, quite literally, is to spatchcock it (a fun way of saying butterfly), stuff its gills and other tender parts, literally expanding the bird to feed more people. Thanks to the spatchcocking, the skin loosens up a bit, and more of the cheese mixture can fit than if you were to stuff it while in its traditional yogic child's pose.
This recipe comes from a memory of something my mom made when I was little. I dubbed it "Ravioli Chicken" for the fact that the bird was stuffed under the skin with a cheesy, herby mixture much like the one we used in our homemade ravioli. It's a great way to stretch a bird, literally, to feed more than four. And besides, spatchcock is so fun to say.
Spatchcocked Ricotta Chicken
1 whole chicken, at least 3 1/2 pounds
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped basil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Remove the innards from the chicken and reserve them for another use. Wash and pat dry the chicken.
Spatchcock (aka butterfly) the chicken using poultry shears or a sharp chef's knife: first remove the backbone, slicing or cutting it along each side all the way down to the tail end. Splay the chicken open with the skin side up on a flat surface. Place the heel of your hands, one on top of the other, over the middle of the chicken. Press down to flatten the chicken. You may hear the breast-bone crack.
Run your fingers under the skin at the neck opening to loosen the skin around the breasts, reaching as far down as the legs if possible.
In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, parmesan, egg, bread crumbs, basil, garlic, lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper.
Using a spoon, carefully stuff the cheese mixture into the chicken between the skin and the meat, starting at the breasts. Coax the mixture into an even layer by pressing and pushing it from the outside, above the skin. Place the chicken on a rack, or several 1/2-inch-thick slices of onion, in a roasting pan, skin side up. Rub it with about a tablespoon olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper.
Roast for an hour or until the juices run clear from the thigh. To test for doneness with a thermometer, check the breast meat for an internal temperature of 165°F. Transfer the chicken to a cutting surface and let stand for 5-10 minutes.
To serve, divide the chicken into quarters, splitting the two breasts into four pieces if desired.