Ever since I discovered the word “spatchcock” in a Nigella Lawson book, I’ve wanted to try it. And not just because it’s such a great word.
It’s a method of preparing a chicken for high heat cooking such as roasting or grilling, where you remove the backbone and flatten the bird so that it’s more or less an even thickness throughout. It has the effect of getting all the skin on one side, so you should be able to get lots of crispy chicken skin, plus the flesh side is all available for seasoning. This weekend we finally got around to trying it, and the result was sort of a Win-Fail-Win situation.
We had quite good luck with the actual preparation. I bought the smallest organic chicken I could find, which was unfortunately still more than 4 pounds (what is with the enormous chickens in the store these days?) We cut out the backbone with our kitchen scissors, and Jon managed to pull out the breastbone with his thumbs just like Steven Raichlen said to (his book gives fantastic photographic instructions for this kind of thing). I cut off the wingtips and tucked the ends of the drumsticks through slits in the thighs. The backbone and other leftover bits went into a tub in the freezer for stock.
Once that was all done, I made a sort of cutting-board pesto of fresh mint, cilantro, garlic, paprika, olive oil, salt and pepper, and rubbed it thoroughly into the chicken. It went in to the refrigerator for the rest of the day.
It was a beautiful day. We gardened until we could hardly move. We had some cocktails. All seemed right with the world. Little did we know…
Grilling the chicken was where the problems arose. Raichlen claims that the grill should be at medium heat, which is defined by being able to hold your hand over the coals for a count of 6-Mississippi. Our grill was burning a bit hot, but we got it pretty close. The chicken went on, skin side down, for about 12 minutes, then on the flip side for another 15. According to the book, it should have been just about perfect. It was not.
Another twenty minutes, and many chicken-flippings, later, the legs had fallen off the chicken and it was still barely cooked through (too big a chicken? Not warm enough before grilling? Not sure). We eventually gave up and ate the most-done parts of it, feeling more than a little put out. Not even fresh tomato salad and Breadfarm allium bread from the farmer’s market could rescue the evening from the pall cast by eating undercooked chicken – not something I recommend, definitely.
But! I’m happy to report that the whole thing was rescued the next day at lunchtime. I pulled the carcass out of the fridge and cut off the breast meat, heated it in a pan to finish cooking it, then sliced it and tossed it with the remainder of the cherry tomato salad, some sprigs of mizuna, and the rest of the allium bread which I had cut into cubes and fried in olive oil. It made an amazing lunch salad.
The rest of the grilled chicken went into the stockpot. I figure a deep, smoky, herbed chicken stock could be just the thing for a pot of green chili later in the season. So I think you could call the chicken a success, in the end. Next time, though, we’re getting a smaller bird and starting it sooner. Less pain and suffering all around.