Have you ever invited a few friends over for dinner only to find you have less time than expected to prepare the meal? You could serve them pasta or a stir-fried dish, or you could cook this slightly more elaborate take on that old standby, roast chicken. It takes (or should take) less than 90 minutes from start to finish - so it's not exactly a quick meal. But most of that time is waiting for the ingredients to cook, and while that's happening, you can set the table, select the wine and otherwise prepare for your guests.

Spatchcocked chicken with potatoes, olives, lemon and carrots (pictured)

Spatchcocking involves removing the backbone of the bird, so it can be flattened. This simple technique means you can season the chicken more evenly and helps it to cook more quickly. You'll need a pair of poultry shears - it's a lot easier than using a knife and they can also be used (thoroughly cleaned) to carve the bird. It's not elegant, but it works well.

If you can't find small potatoes, buy larger ones then peel and cut them into chunks (no need to peel small ones). Buy kalamata olives that have been packed in brine and olive oil.

If you have a little extra time, make gravy - the recipe is below.

1 fresh chicken, 1.5kg

1 lemon

500 grams small potatoes,

about 3cm-4cm long

1 head of garlic

8-12 shallots

200 grams kalamata olives, drained

The leaves of one small thyme sprig

12-16 young carrots

About 20ml olive oil

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius.

While the oven is heating, put the chicken breast-side down on the cutting board. Use poultry shears to remove the head and neck, cutting the latter as close as possible to the body. Remove the feet. Turn the bird so the tail is facing you, then cut along one side of the backbone, from tail to where the neck was. Turn the bird around and cut along the other side of the backbone, to remove it completely. Open the bird to expose the cavity and remove any chunks of fat, the delicate rib bones (they're easy to pull out), and also take out the wishbone and shoulder bones (these are harder to remove - you'll need to scrape away the meat with a paring knife, and cut out the bones with the scissors). If you're making gravy, set aside the neck (discard the head), the feet and bones (including the backbone), and the fat. Dry the inside of the cavity of the bird with paper towels then turn it over and dry the skin. Use your hands to press firmly on the chicken, to flatten it. Sprinkle salt over the entire bird then drizzle it with olive oil and rub it into the skin and flesh. Quarter the lemon lengthwise and squeeze the juice over the bird, then sprinkle it with black pepper. Lay the bird skin-side up in a large roasting pan that's been rubbed with a little olive oil. Position the legs so they're close to the body, then tuck the wing tips under the shoulders, to hold the wings in place. If you're making gravy, add the excess chicken fat to the pan. Place the squeezed out lemon quarters around the bird. This whole process should take about 15 minutes - about the same time it takes to preheat the oven. When the oven is ready, slide in the pan and set the timer for 15 minutes.

Wash the potatoes, then place them in a pan of salted water over a high flame. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for five minutes, then drain. Separate the garlic into cloves and peel the shallots.

After the chicken has cooked for 15 minutes, remove the pan from the oven. Push the chicken to one side of the pan and add the potatoes, garlic and shallots. By now, some fat will have rendered out of the bird. Lightly coat the potatoes, garlic and shallots with the chicken fat in the pan, then sprinkle with salt. Scatter the olives around the chicken and sprinkle the thyme leaves over the ingredients, then put the pan back in the oven and set the timer for 15 minutes.

Wash the carrots and trim off the tops. When the timer has gone off, take the pan from the oven and increase the heat to 250 degrees. Stir all the ingredients (except the chicken) to coat them with more fat, then put the pan back in the oven and set the timer for 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, remove the chicken from the pan and put it on a cutting board to rest. Put the carrots in the pan, mix the ingredients one more time, then cook for 15 minutes at 250 degrees.

Cut the chicken into serving pieces then nestle them in the pan among all the other ingredients. Serve immediately.

Chicken gravy

The neck, feet and bones from the spatchcocked chicken

20ml of rendered fat from the roasted bird

20 grams plain (all-purpose) flour

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Make the chicken stock by putting the neck, feet and bones in a saucepan and adding 500ml of water. Bring to the boil then lower the flame, cover the pan with the lid and simmer for 30 minutes.

After placing the chicken on the cutting board, and before putting the pan back in the oven to finish cooking the vegetables, spoon 20ml of chicken fat from the pan and put it into a clean saucepan. Heat the fat over a low flame and whisk in the flour. Whisk constantly for two minutes, then add a ladleful of the chicken stock and whisk until smooth. Add the remaining stock a ladleful at a time, whisking well between each addition. If the gravy is too thick, add plain water. Season the gravy with salt and pepper, then pour into a sauceboat and serve with the chicken.

Styling Nellie Ming Lee

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