Author of The New Midwestern Table, Amy Thielen has discovered the ultimate secret to perfectly crackly skin and supremely juicy, rich roast chicken meat: pork. Faced with a glut of fatback, Theilen used it in place of butter to grease up the bird for roasting. The result: a beautifully bronzed presentation and flavor that's out of this world.
Note: For the ultimate in crispiness, allow overnight for drying out the chicken skin.
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- 1 (3 1/2–4-lb.) whole chicken
- 1 head garlic
- 1 small bunch thyme
- 3-4 oz. pork fatback, cut into 1/4-inch pieces, or 1/2 cup rendered fatback (lard), chilled
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more
- 1⁄2 lemon
- Freshly ground black pepper
Rinse the chicken inside and out and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Place the chicken on a rack set over a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for at least 8 hours, or overnight.
Heat the oven to 500°. On a cutting board, mince 2 cloves from the head of garlic and mince enough thyme from the bunch to make 2 teaspoons. Place the minced garlic and thyme in a small bowl along with the fatback or lard, 1 tablespoon olive oil, the 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, and the zest of the lemon. Season the fatback or lard with pepper and stir to combine. Using your fingers, loosen the skin of the chicken from its breasts and drumsticks. Slip 3⁄4 of the seasoned fatback (or lard) over the breasts and the remaining 1⁄4 over the drumsticks. Rub the skin with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper. Separate the remaining cloves from the head of garlic and quarter the lemon. Place both, along with the remaining thyme sprigs, in the bottom of a roasting pan.
Transfer the chicken to the roasting pan and roast for 25 minutes. Decrease the oven temperature to 375° and roast until the skin is golden brown and crisp and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thigh reads 160°, about 45 minutes more. Transfer the chicken to a rack and let rest for 15 minutes before carving. Serve the chicken while warm with the roasted lemon and garlic and the pan juices spooned over the top.