Lemon-Sumac Roasted Chicken

published Apr 7, 2022
Lemon-Sumac Roasted Chicken Recipe

This recipe is an ode to crispy skin. And the first step to getting perfectly crispy skin in every bite is to spatchcock the chicken.

Serves4

Prep15 minutes

Cook1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes

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shot of platter on table
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Micah Morton; Prop Styling: Gerri Williams

Everyone should have one simple roast that they can make without thinking about it, and this one is mine. The stalwart of Shabbat dinner, this roasted chicken is an ode to crispy skin. The first step to getting perfectly crispy skin in every bite is to spatchcock the bird. Typically, spatchcocking involves removing the spine from the chicken, but I cut through one side of the chicken only, leaving the spine and all its flavor. If you do remove the spine, set it aside (or freeze it) to use for making stock. (Some grocers also sell spatchcocked chicken.) 

In addition to allowing the skin to crisp up all over, spatchcocking also helps the chicken cook faster, about an hour total for a four- to five-pound bird. That’s ideal for getting Shabbat dinner on the table by sunset, and it’s also perfect for a more formal dinner, like a Seder, when oven space is limited in general. I’m so enamored of the technique, in fact, that I use it for my Thanksgiving turkey as well.

After I spatchcock the chicken, I squeeze the juice of one lemon all over it, inside and out. Then I dry the excess juice from the skin, and season with salt and a good amount (2 tablespoons) of sumac. Although there are about 150 types of sumac plants, the variety typically sold in grocery stores is a fragrant, red powder ground from the berries of the sumac bush. Popular in Middle Eastern cuisine, the spice brings a bright, citrusy flavor to recipes, and here, the coarse texture of the powder helps contribute to the overall crispiness of the chicken skin, which is, after all, the goal. (If you are cooking for Passover, be sure the sumac is labeled Kosher for Passover.)

The roasting method is the final element in the skin-crisping process. I start the oven hot — 400°F — and the blast of heat immediately begins to go to work on the skin. Once the crisping is well underway (after about 40 minutes), I lower the oven temperature to 375°F to ensure that the meat stays perfectly juicy. At this point, I add vegetables to roast in the lemony, sumac-scented schmaltz that’s rendered from the chicken. In about 20 minutes, the vegetables — usually potatoes and shallots, but many root vegetables are welcome at this party — absorb a ton of flavor while getting soft and crunchy in all the right places. A bit of resting time also helps make sure the chicken is crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside.

Because this meal typically falls toward the end of my week, I always have a bag of veggie bits and pieces hanging out in the crisper drawer — knobs of carrot or onion ends that have accumulated from a week of cooking — and I use them to make stock with the picked-clean chicken carcass.

That’s the chicken stock I use for the following week, and, if I happen to find myself with a surplus of stock, I’ll store the excess in deli containers in the freezer. I’m also careful to reserve any drippings, separating the liquid from the fat (schmaltz), both of which are full of flavor and, thus, precious. If I don’t have an immediate use for them, I’ll store them, labeled and dated, in the freezer. Depending on how big the bird and how hungry the family, I may also have a cup or two of chicken meat left over. I’ll use that for soup or a quick chicken salad for lunch later in the week. The important thing is to honor the bird by not wasting a single bit of it.

Lemon-Sumac Roasted Chicken Recipe

This recipe is an ode to crispy skin. And the first step to getting perfectly crispy skin in every bite is to spatchcock the chicken.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 (about 4 1/2-pound)

    whole chicken

  • 1

    medium lemon

  • 2 tablespoons

    sumac

  • 1 1/4 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided

  • 4

    medium shallots

  • 6

    small Yukon Gold potatoes (about 1 pound total)

  • 1 tablespoon

    olive oil

Instructions

  1. Let 1 (about 4 1/2-pound) whole chicken sit at room temperature for 1 hour before roasting if possible.

  2. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Halve 1 medium lemon.

  3. Position the chicken breast-side up on a cutting board. Check for and remove the giblets and neck bone from the cavity of the chicken. Tuck the wing tips behind the chicken’s shoulder by gently folding them towards the neck cavity and then behind the chicken. Pat dry with paper towels to make it easier to move and spatchcock.

  4. Flip the chicken over so it is breast-side down. Use kitchen shears to cut out the back bone: Starting from the tail end of the chicken, cut along one side of the back bone, then repeat on the other side to remove the backbone. Keep the cuts as close to the spine as possible — this may require a little more pressure above the thigh bone. Save the backbone for making stock if desired.

  5. Flip the chicken so it is now breast-side up. Use the heel of your hands to press down on the breast bone to flatten the chicken. You may hear a crack as you press.

  6. Squeeze the juice from the lemon halves all over both sides of the chicken, then place the lemon pieces on the baking sheet. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels to remove any excess lemon juice. Place the chicken on the baking sheet and season all over with 2 tablespoons sumac and 3/4 teaspoon of the kosher salt.

  7. Arrange the chicken skin-side up over the lemon halves. Place in the oven with the legs closer to the back of the oven. Roast for 40 minutes. Meanwhile, peel and halve 4 medium shallots. Halve 6 small Yukon Gold potatoes lengthwise. Place the shallots and potatoes in a medium bowl. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and toss to combine.

  8. Remove the baking sheet from the oven. Add the potatoes and shallots, cut side down, to the baking sheet around the chicken. Reduce the oven temperature to 375ºF. Return the baking sheet to the oven and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh not touching bone registers at least 165ºF, about 20 minutes more.

  9. Transfer the chicken to a clean cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes. If the potatoes aren’t tender yet, return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes more.

  10. Transfer the potatoes and shallots to a serving bowl and discard the lemon pieces. Carve the chicken and serve with the potatoes and shallots. Reserve the fat from the pan (aka schmaltz) for another use, or drizzle over the chicken and potatoes as a sauce.

Recipe Notes

Shallot substitute: 1 quartered yellow or red onion can be substituted for the shallots.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.