Thanksgiving always sneaks up on me. It doesn’t help that I’m Canadian, so Thanksgiving falls on the first weekend of October. I don’t know about you but I’m barely over my summer mourning period at that point. And the weather, well that’s a whole other story. I can remember some positively balmy Thanksgivings that made the thought of warm apple cider downright laughable. But yes, the holiday countdown is officially on in my neck of the woods. And whether or not I’m emotionally or spiritually ready, I have to turn my mind back to roasts, mashed potatoes, and all those good festive things. So consider today’s Ricotta Stuffed Roast Chicken as a warm-up.
Okay, I feel I should elaborate on my previous statement. I haven’t roasted much of anything in the last four or so months. Why? Because during the summer months I live in a hot and humid asphalt-happy concrete jungle. It’s not exactly the ideal climate to run an oven in. So this chicken marks my triumphant return to roasting, broiling, and baking. Although I referred to it as a “warm-up” to the holiday season, I can assure you it tastes a heck of a lot more special than that.
So what makes this chicken so special? Well, it’s special because it gets VIP treatment. First, the chicken is spatchcocked, which is a fancy way of saying the backbone is removed and the bird is opened like a book. Next, the chicken is generously seasoned on both sides with salt and left to hang out in the fridge uncovered. This process is called “dry brining”. And finally, a mixture of ricotta cheese, garlic, herbs, and breadcrumbs is stuffed under the chicken’s skin covering the legs and breasts.
Each one of these steps serves one purpose – to make the juiciest bird imaginable. And that all starts with the decision to spatchcock. It’s not just a funny, slightly dirty-sounding word. Spatchcocking not only reduces roasting time but also allows the chicken to roast more evenly. The chicken is laid out, so every inch of it is exposed to the heat of the oven for the same length of time. This means the more delicate white meat on the breast doesn’t dry out while you’re waiting for the dark meat to cross the finish line. Not to mention the skin will crisp evenly.
Next, dry brining. This is such a simple process. Much simpler than a wet brine and a lot less mess. All you need is a bird, some salt, and time – the construct, not the herb. Simply season the bird all over and leave it in the fridge overnight uncovered. The salt slowly permeates the skin and seasons the bird throughout. It also draws out the moisture from the skin of the bird resulting in the crispiest of crispy roast chickens.
And finally, the ricotta stuffing. Not only does the ricotta stuffing add richness to the bird, but it also protects the meat, insulating it from the direct heat of the oven. It’s almost as if the chicken is being gently poached inside its own skin. On top of that, the acidity in both the lemon and ricotta in the stuffing act as tenderizers. Honestly, the breast meat on this bird was the best I’ve ever had. And I’m not generally a white meat person. I really only like it in sandwiches and salads. But with this bird, I went back for seconds.
At this point, all that remains is to place your coddled chicken in a skillet and pop it in the oven. A 350°F oven to be exact. And you don’t have to do much more than that. I would recommend rotating and basting your chicken once halfway through. But essentially you’re an hour of inactivity away from a showstopping dinner. And the chicken is so rich, you really don’t need much more than a salad. But you know me, I, of course, encourage potatoes. Rice is nice as well. Really any carb is welcome. But try not to go crazy with the sides because in this instance nobody will be there for the sides. This chicken is magic.
And that’s pretty much everything you need to know about this Ricotta Stuffed Roast Chicken. Chicken doesn’t always get the praise it deserves. It’s a humble bird to most people. But this chicken will most certainly change their minds. I would take it over turkey any day of the week.
Ricotta Stuffed Roast Chicken
- 1 Large Cast Iron Skillet
- 1 piping bag
- 1 large round piping tip
- 1 pair of kitchen shears ***
- 1 whole chicken
- 1 tbsp +1 tsp salt divided
- 350g (12oz) full-fat ricotta
- 1 clove garlic minced
- ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup fresh parsley finely chopped
- ¼ cup fresh chives finely chopped
- 2 tbsp lemon zest
- 2 tbsp fresh sage finely chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil divided
- 1 large egg
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 4-5 lemon wheels
- fresh sage leaves to garnish
- Using kitchen shears, remove the backbone of the chicken. Freeze it to make future chicken stock.1 whole chicken
- Place the chicken breast-side-up on a cutting board. Press hard on the chicken's chest with the heel of your hand. You should hear a pop and the chicken should lay flat.
- Place the chicken on a cooling rack placed inside a small baking sheet. Season the chicken all over with 1 tablespoon of the salt. Transfer the chicken to the fridge and let sit for 8-12 hours uncovered.1 tbsp +1 tsp salt
- When the chicken is nearly done dry brining, preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the ricotta, garlic, breadcrumbs, herbs, lemon zest, and egg in a medium-sized bowl. Add a tablespoon of the olive oil and the remaining salt. Stir to combine. Transfer the ricotta mixture to a piping bag fitting with a large round tip and set it aside.350g (12oz) full-fat ricotta, 1 clove garlic, ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs, ¼ cup fresh parsley, ¼ cup fresh chives, 2 tbsp lemon zest, 2 tbsp fresh sage, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 large egg, 1 tbsp +1 tsp salt
- Take the chicken out of the fridge. Using the handle of a spoon or rubber spatula, start pulling the skin away from the breast. Move slowly and carefully, so you don't tear the skin.
- Once the skin on the breasts has pulled away enough to form a deep pocket, cut two slits in the skin at the chicken's ankles. Repeat the process, slowly pulling the skin away from the thighs and drumsticks.
- Pipe the ricotta mixture into the pockets you made. It's best to squeeze some filling in and then press and smooth the skin to evenly disperse the filling before adding more. This smoothing technique is especially important when filling the thighs.
- Once the chicken is evenly stuffed, place it in a large cast iron skillet. Pour the remaining olive oil on the chicken and rub it into the skin. Top the chicken with the butter and lemon wheels.2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp unsalted butter, 4-5 lemon wheels
- Roast the chicken for 1 hour, rotating and basting the chicken once halfway through. Remove the lemon wheels halfway through as well, and place them to the side of the bird. Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes prior to carving and serving. Garnish with fresh sage and serve immediately.fresh sage leaves