Roll with me on this one. It's easy and totally appropriate.
You start out by following my couldn't-be-easier recipe for cast-iron skillet roasted whole chicken. The gist is that you split the bird at the backbone (technically called spatchcocking, but that just seems inappropriate in this context), sear it breast side down on the stovetop, then flip the bird and finish it in the oven.
When the chicken is cooked, you let it cool, then you cover it and refrigerate it right in the pan. You even can do the roasting the night before.
The rest is up to you, but the idea is to accompany your bird with sandwich fixings. Start with some sliced sourdough bread or whole-grain pita pockets. Add some washed and dried lettuce, sliced tomatoes, slabs of cheddar or manchego cheese, a few condiments, and whatever else you and your date enjoy.
Add a bottle of wine and the chilled chicken and you're good to go. At the picnic, you set out everything and leisurely sip and assemble sandwiches (or just nibble). Because when the idea is to woo, it's hard to beat whipping out a whole roasted chicken complete with sandwich supplies.
This recipe also makes enough for a crowd. A 4-pound chicken should provide enough meat for eight sandwiches. If you don't need that much, look for a smaller bird, but watch the cooking time, as it should be shorter.
CAST-IRON SKILLET ROASTED CHICKEN
Of course this recipe also works for a weeknight dinner. The chicken comes out terrifically moist and tender. And because the chicken is flattened before it is cooked, it is finished much faster than traditional roasting methods.
Start to finish: 50 minutes (10 minutes active)
4-pound whole chicken
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon dried thyme
1/2 tablespoon ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 425 F.
Place the chicken on the cutting board breast side down. Use sturdy kitchen shears to cut down the length of the spine on both sides. Discard the spine. Turn the bird breast side up. Gripping the 2 cut sides where the spine used to be, open up the bird, pressing down firmly at the centre to flatten it.
In a small bowl, mx together the salt, garlic powder, thyme and pepper. Rub the mixture evenly over the entire chicken.
Set a large cast-iron skillet on a burner over medium-high. When the skillet it hot, add the chicken breast side down. Let the chicken brown for 5 minutes, then use tongs to carefully flip the bird so the breast side is up. Set the skillet in the oven and roast for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the thickest part reaches 165 F.
Remove the chicken from the oven. Either serve immediately or let cool and refrigerate for use in a picnic as described above.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 490 calories; 310 calories from fat (63 per cent of total calories); 34 g fat (10 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 170 mg cholesterol; 1 g carbohydrate; 42 g protein; 0 g fiber; 880 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Food Editor J.M. Hirsch is author of the cookbook "High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." Follow him to great eats on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch or email him at jhirsch(at)ap.org.