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Everyone loves a good roast chicken, but whole birds can be tricky to cook. The breast meat is best at 150 degrees, and tends to dry out after that. However, that's before the dark meat has reached the perfect juicy 170 degrees. I've tried to remedy this by flipping the bird several times as it roasts in the pan to expose the legs and darker meat to direct oven heat, but that just gets messy.

The answer? Spatchcocking, or butterflying, the bird, which allows the whole bird to cook evenly. It's relatively easy to butterfly chicken, or any poultry: Remove the backbone with a kitchen shears, then flatten out and arrange the chicken in a roasting pan. (Some meat counters do the work for you and sell them already butterflied.) The breast, arranged in the center of the pan where it's a bit cooler, will cook gently, while the legs, spread out toward the edge, are exposed to more of the direct heat, allowing the chicken to roast quickly and evenly.

It helps to season the chicken at least an hour or so in advance, giving the meat time to absorb the salt all the way to the bone. It's even better when seasoned a day ahead, then set to rest, uncovered, in the refrigerator so the skin dries out and will roast to a lovely brown and be crackling crisp. Before roasting, set the pan in the oven and preheat them both at the same time. The chicken will start to sizzle soon as it hits the pan.

Once it's cooked, let the chicken rest before carving so the juices that have been drawn to the surface by the oven's heat will flow back into the meat. Serve the chicken over mashed potatoes, rice or pasta. Or, just tear a loaf of crusty sourdough bread into jagged chunks to sop up all those marvelous juices.

Tarragon-Caper Spatchcock Chicken

Serves 4 to 6.

The chicken is roasted with fresh tarragon. Its soft licorice notes get a citrusy smack from the caper berries. Toss a handful of cherry tomatoes into the pan for pops of color. Be sure to get a plump free-range chicken; I like those from Tree-Range Farms, a local collective of farmers. From Beth Dooley.

• 1 (4- to 5-lb.) chicken

• 2 tbsp. hazelnut or olive oil

• Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 1 bunch fresh tarragon, plus about 1/4 c. chopped, plus more for garnish

• 1 large shallot, cut into chunks

• 1/4 cup caper berries, drained

• 1 1/2 c. cherry tomatoes, or more to taste


Preheat the oven and the roasting pan to 450 degrees. Using sharp kitchen shears, remove the backbone from the chicken and set aside. Flatten the chicken by placing the skin side up on a cutting board and applying firm pressure to the breastbone. Rub the chicken with the oil and generously season with the salt and pepper on both sides.

When oven is preheated, carefully place the chicken in the roasting pan. Put the tarragon bunch into the cavity of the chicken. (If desired, add the backbone to the pan and roast alongside for extra flavor. Otherwise, be sure to save it for stock.) Scatter the shallot, caper berries, cherry tomatoes and chopped tarragon on and around the chicken, lifting it to tuck a few of the vegetables and capers under the breast and legs.

Roast until the thickest part of the breast close to the bone hits 150 degrees on an instant-read meat thermometer and the joint between the thighs and body registers 170 degrees, about 45 minutes. Remove the chicken and transfer to a cutting board and allow to rest for about 5 minutes before carving.

Beth Dooley is the author of "The Perennial Kitchen." Find her at