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Crisp, flavorful brown skin over juicy meat is the mark of a good roast chicken. My technique of butterflying the chicken before roasting ensures both. Using dry spices instead of fresh herbs creates a crunchy crust, as does silan (date syrup) or honey. Not only do those natural sugars add a hint of sweetness, they also deliver a deep caramel color to the chicken skin, and with my butterfly- ing technique, all the skin is exposed to the oven’s heat to make it crackly and flavorful. Plus, butterflying eliminates the need for trussing the chicken and helps it cook more quickly. The onions cooked under the chicken make for an instant, delicious sauce, which would be even better spooned over noodles, potatoes, or cooked or raw greens.
Lior Lev Sercarz, from "Mastering Spice" by Lior Lev Sercarz
Finely grind the bay leaves and garlic and immediately mix with the whole celery seeds, basil, savory, paprika, and peperoncini.
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 whole chicken (5 pounds)
1⁄4 cup sherry vinegar
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Coat a medium roasting pan with oil (3 to 4 tablespoons). Add the onions, one-third of the spice blend, and a pinch of salt. Toss until the onions are well coated and spread them in an even layer. Pour the vinegar over the onions.
Line a half sheet pan or other large rimmed pan with parchment paper and set the chicken on the pan. Using a very sharp knife or poultry shears, cut the chicken along one side of the backbone to split it in half. Open the chicken. Arrange the chicken breast-side up and press down on both sides of the breastbone to flatten it. Drizzle the chicken with oil to coat (1 to 2 tablespoons) and then with the silan. Rub the oil and silan all over the chicken and sprinkle with the remaining spice blend to evenly coat. Sprinkle salt all over the chicken and place it on top of the onions, skin-side up. Scrape any spices and juices from the prep pan over the chicken.
Roast, basting the chicken every 20 minutes, until the skin is evenly browned and a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 150°F, about 1 hour. When you stick the cooked chicken with the thermometer, its juices should run clear.
Remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes before carving. Serve with the onions and pan sauce.
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