Thursday, May 13, 2010

Spatchcocked Chicken: A Grotesque Step-by-Step

The secret to delicious, perfectly cooked whole chicken is also a really fun word to say: Spatchcock. It either sounds like a sneeze or a foreign swear word. Or both. You do have to get a little down and dirty with your chicken, but look at the reward:

Look at all that delicious browned crispy chicken skin. Look at those roasted whole garlic cloves and red onions. Spy the roasty-toasty carrots hiding in the sides of the pan. You, too, can enjoy a roast chicken on a weeknight, and in about an hour from start to finish.

The secret is cutting out the backbone of the chicken and flattening it. This makes the chicken cook more quickly and more evenly, so you get a juicier breast without having underdone legs. That sounds like the cover of a glamour magazine. ANYWAYS. After you have spatchcocked your bird, the seasonings and accompanying vegetables are really up to you -- really, anything goes (within reason - I don't want any comments saying you tried it with chocolate sauce and marshmallow fluff and it didn't work and I'm a liar).

But if you want to make what I made, here's what you need:

One whole chicken
2 TBS olive oil
One red onion, cut into wedges
2 carrots, cut into sticks
One head of garlic, peeled but in whole cloves
1 lemon (or more if you like) cut in half
1 TBS honey
1 tsp coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper.

Your instructions and gruesome raw chicken photos are after the jump! But also some lovely roasty after shots - don't despair! Click here to keep reading.

1. Your first step is removing that chicken's backbone. It is really not very difficult and only a very little bit gross. You need a pair of moderately sharp kitchen shears for this part - if you use a knife, at your own risk. Grasp the chicken firmly with both hands... no just kidding. Kind of. Turn the chicken over so the breast side is down. Locate the backbone. This is usually smack in the middle. See where the nub is on the right hand side in this photo?

That be your backbone. So hold it with your one hand and start cutting on one side of it with the shears. You are cutting OUT the backbone, not cutting through it so be sure you are cutting to one side of the spine.

See? Holding that nub with one hand, cutting to the right of the spine with the other. Cut right through to the other end, the neck.

Your chicken is now able to open. But before we get ahead of ourselves, we need to still cut along the other side of the spine to completely remove that pesky backbone. So just cut along the other side, all the way to the end.

Ta da!

Backbone now removed, that chicken is now at your mercy. Your next step is to return the chicken to a less gruesome position where its innards are not exposed to the world like that. So flip it over. Much better.

Put the base of your hands at the top of the middle of the breast. You are about to break that chickens breast bone WITH YOUR BARE HANDS!!!!

All you have to do is give a good strong push and it will crack. This will make the chicken flat and easy to roast or barbecue.

If you are unclear about how this cutting and breaking thing works, there is a great tutorial on YouTube that I watched before attempting any of this.

Now back to the pretty part.

2. Heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet big enough to hold your chicken - medium-high seemed to work for me. Preheat the oven to about 425ºF while the oil is heating. Put the chicken in the skillet skin-side down and brown for a few minutes - I would say about 3-4 minutes but no more.

3. Flip the chicken over so the browned skin is up and pile your vegetables around it. Brush the honey onto the browned skin and squeeze half the lemon on top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. I may have added some thyme at this point but I can't remember. Chop up the other half of the lemon and add it to the veggies in the skillet.

4. Put the whole thing in the hot oven, uncovered, and let it roast. I think our chicken took about 40 minutes - I used a thermometer, but you can check if it's done by slicing the leg joint and seeing if the juices are clear.

Or you can just wait til it looks like this and smells like heaven:

Serve with some of the gravy in the bottom of the pan on top for a truly rewarding chicken experience.

Leftovers, including the carcass (and that backbone you cut out) can be made into other meals like pot pie, enchiladas, and your own home-made chicken stock! We got three whole meals for two plus 6 liters of stock out of this $6 chicken.

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  1. Great tutorial and delicious looking chicken.

  2. Love your blog, Mere! You put mine to shame...I plan to pass it along to two foodie friends of mine in the Int'l Women's Club that I belong to in Barcelona. Together they wrote a great cookbook which you might enjoy looking at (ask Jen). Plan to use some of your recipes down at the Lake in NB this summer...keep up the good work and happy cooking! As they say in Spain, Bon Profit! Kathie (Jen's Mum)

  3. I had never thought to do a chicken like that! I added some spices under the skin (ground thyme, rosemary, nutmeg) and added a few other veggies to the pot (summer squash, new potatoes) and it was incredible.

  4. Meredith, Love the look of your spatchcocked chicken. I've made a couple of these but mine didn't look as yummy as yours (altho the "Polderside"
    chicken was indeed tubby and lovely.)

    Love your site. Hope to see u when u are in Van this summer.

    All best,
    Sally W.

  5. This looks like a good technique and I'll definitely try it.

  6. I bought a 13-inch cast iron skillet at the Lodge Cast Iron Outlet store a few months ago just to cook chicken in this manner but I lost the recipe that inspired me. This one looks easy and I love the entertaining way you write! Thanks!

  7. recipe -- FLATTENED OUT CHICKEN. I had no idea there was a name for CUTTING the chicken this way..

    I know my mom would sometimes cut & prepare a whole chicken this way, (oven baked, not on stovetop)... cut through the backbone and flatten out the chicken by "cracking" the breastbone, but not splitting in half. Sped up baking time and crispy skin all around. (my mom used lemon, salt & pepper and wine vinegar as her seasoning for baked chicken).

    Your STEP BY STEP directions and photos for SPATCHCOCK chicken on the stovetop are great!