It started a few weeks, back, under the cover of night. I’d been aching to try it for a while, but it seemed so difficult and dangerous that I was nervous about an actual attempt. I’d read about it of course, and even seen a few videos on one of those specialty YouTube channels. They made it look so easy, but still I was afraid I’d wind up with a mangled corpse and a kitchen saturated with blood.
A Decision Made
Finally I plucked up the courage to try my hand.
I waited until I knew there would be no witnesses to catch me should I fail. I brought my victim home, put on my apron and sharpened my largest, heaviest knife. Then, with a drink to steady my nerves, I sneaked up behind my victim, and set to work.
The relief and pride as the job was done were immense. And later, as I gazed down at my victim lying spread-eagled before me and sampled the juicy morsels of tender flesh, I knew I would do it again. And again and again. This was not some dark adventure to try only when the moon was full or when I could hold out no longer against my dark desires. This would happen regularly, perhaps once a week if I was lucky and could find people to share my new compulsion – and if my freezer could hold the rising tide of body parts. I had become a man obsessed.
Yes. Spatchcocking chicken had changed me forever.
You may have heard of Spatchocking as “butterflying,” but that’s far too pretty a term for what this process involves.
Spatchcocking – not to be confused with Spatchcock, which is a culled immature rooster, or Spitchcock, which has to do with eels- is when the backbone of a chicken is removed and the chicken is flattened out, ready for grilling or roasting. The term is apparently an Irish word, which is another culinary reason to thank them, along with flavored potato chips and chocolate milk. It’s been around since at least the 18th century, though it’s such a brilliant way to prepare a chicken for cooking that I’d be surprised if nobody had thought of it sooner. Spatchcocking has regained popularity for a while now, mostly because it’s perfect for the barbecue.
Flattening a whole chicken like that allows you to grill it in one piece, like it’s one big piece of meat. And who doesn’t go berserk for a big piece of meat?
Now that’s all well and good, but why lose my mind over it?
Tingling at Technique
Well, for a start, I’m all a-tingle at new techniques! Spatchcocking- daunting as it appears- is one of those culinary challenges that make you feel really quite accomplished once you’ve mastered it. And it’s way easier than it looks.
- You just sit your chicken upright on a cutting board – legs at the bottom and wings at the top, the breasts and legs facing away from you.
- Pop your fingers in the neck cavity, and you’ll instantly feel the backbone. Now, using a good sharp heavy knife, just saw down one side of the backbone, and then the other. You’ll actually be cutting through the birds little ribs, so it takes no effort at all until you reach the bottom.
- Once you’ve removed the backbone, place the chicken breast side up on the cutting board, then put the heels of your palms between the breasts and press down until you hear the (very pleasing) crunch of the sternum breaking. It’s just like giving CPR except, well, not.
And that’s really all there is to spatchcocking. All very surgically satisfying, and slightly sinister too. It’s a new kitchen skill that will make you feel both dexterous and Dexter-ish. And who isn’t bonkers for a bit of butchery?
Rabid for Roasting
If techniques get me tingling, I’m absolutely rabid for roasting. The spatchcocking trend these days seems to be all about barbecue but I’ve always believed that chicken tastes its absolute best when roasted on the bone. Turns out that spatchcocking makes that SO MUCH EASIER!
- The white and dark meats are on the same level and have exactly the same exposure to the heat from your oven, so gone are your worries about tender white meat/raw dark meat!
- They cook at exactly the same rate, so you get perfectly succulent meat from leg and breast every time!
- Even better? You can cook the bird at a higher heat, and shave a third off your cooking time. Seriously, a chicken to feed four hungry people can be roasted in under an hour, which means you can actually roast a chicken for a mid-week dinner party.
This pleases me not only because I’m cuckoo for quick cooking times, but also because it gives the chicken that “Rotisserie” taste that we all love so much! Fond as I am of a spot of spit-roasting, it’s incredibly difficult (and tiring) to pull off a good spit-roast on your own. Don’t make a rod for your own culinary back; just spatchcock the bird instead.
Top Notch Taste
And I don’t even miss stuffing the bird’s cavity with lemon and garlic and herbs for extra flavour. I just slice the lemon instead of quartering it, and lay it on the bottom of the roasting dish with the garlic and herbs, and pop my bird on top! This actually gives the bird even more zing, as the direct heat from the dish really cooks those flavour-enhancers through. And all those herby, lemony, garlicky juices will go straight into my gravy.
Did I mention the skin? Don’t we all have a screw loose for gorgeously crisp and dark chicken skin? Isn’t that secretly the best bit of a good roast chicken? And isn’t there never enough to go round? Then imagine my deranged delight when I realized that spatchcocking exposes way more chicken skin than the traditional roasting method. All that skin between the body and the legs that’s usually tucked under the bird is now, well, naked- and ready to be burnished into crispy goodness from a quick roast!
Maniacal about Marinating
If you think I’m mad so far, well let me tell you I am even more maniacal about marinating, and with my butchered bird now in far more malleable shape, that couldn’t be more manageable! Brining aside, have you ever tried to marinate an intact bird? It’s cumbersome at best. But now I can pop it in a freezer bag, or just in its roasting dish with clingfilm on top, and- from pastes to liquids- I find I can now immerse my bird in any concoction I require. A Mediterranean olive oil, lemon, garlic and rosemary paste? A rich dark terriyaki soak? All are now possible.I’m almost potty enough to pursue a tandoori paste!
Whither the Waste?
“But wait, you whacko!” I hear you wail, “What about the waste?”
To which I have to say, “What waste?” That big piece of backbone I’ve cut away, with its skin and fat and flesh still clinging to it, is perfect for the stockpot! I even go one step further and cut off the wings as well, so they get saved too. In fact, regarding those wings, I find it’s a far better use for them! So into the freezer the back and wings go, and after just a couple of birds I’ve got enough for the base of a deep, rich stock. It’s enough to make me gibber with the glee of an avian Ed Gein.
Invitation to Indulge
So now you know my madness, I hope you can see – and share – the method in it. In all seriousness, spatchcocking has completely changed how I cook chicken, mostly because now I do it all the time. It’s now my go-to means for meals for the week, from that dinner party to just roasting a chicken for myself on a Sunday, then living off it for the remainder of that week. Of course it helps that I’m a leg and breast person.
After trying chicken roasted this way, I’m pretty confident you will be too! So go on! Give it a try! You’ll see I’m maybe not the knife-wielding psycho I appear to be!
And, you know, you’re welcome to come take a shower at my place. Any time…
CIDER AND HONEY ROASTED CHICKEN
This is one of my new favorite recipes for my spatchcocked bird. It strikes me as being more autumnal than flushed with the (almost here) joys of spring, but now seems as good a time to post it as any! The cider- and I’m referring here to the “hard” British cider that I far prefer to beer- is both a marinade for the bird and the base for the gravy. It’ll also perfume the bird as it roasts. Make sure you buy a good cider, perhaps from a micro-brewery or the like. As with wine, don’t cook with a cider you wouldn’t drink. The honey is a holdover from my mother’s favorite way of roasting a chicken. It turns the skin a lovely mahogany, and gives it a deep sweet crispness!
What You Need:
- (for 4 good eaters)
- 1 1-2kg (3 1/2-4 lb) chicken, the healthiest and happiest you can afford
For The Marinade:
- 1 500ml bottle of dry cider (reserving half)
- 1 large onion, sliced into thickish rings- the chcken will be sitting on them later, so it should sit a bit proud of the pan, so to speak.
- Several sprigs of fresh thyme (from a packet from your supermarket, or a big handful from your garden)
- salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon softened butter (you could use olive oil instead, but the butter adds a heavenly richness)
- 3 tablespoons runny honey
- the rest of that thyme
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon cider (you won’t need this if you’ve marinated in a bag)
For The Gravy:
- 2 tablespoons plain flour
- the rest of that cider
- 2 cups chicken stock
What You Do:
- Start by spatchcocking your chicken (see above) and then make a couple of deep slits in each of the thighs, legs and breasts. Season well with salt and pepper.
- Then either place the chicken in a large freezer bag with the 1/2 bottle of cider and the onion and thyme sprigs, or lay the onion and thyme sprigs in a roasting pan that’s large enough to hold the chicken, then place the chicken breast side down over them.
- Pour over the 1/2 bottle of cider, pouring in a little more if that’s what you need to ensure that the chicken flesh is well immersed.
- Either seal the bag, or cover the dish, and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours. The cider isn’t particularly acidic, so overnight in the fridge would be fine! Take the chicken out of the fridge – and the marinade – a good half hour before you start to roast it it so it can come up to room temperature.
Prep and Cook:
- Preheat your oven to 200C/400f/Gas mark 6.
- Remove the chicken from the marinade, and discard the used cider. If you’ve marinated the chicken in the roasting dish, simply pour off the cider and remove the sprigs of thyme, then remove the chicken and wipe dry. If you’ve used a bag, make sure you reserve the onions as well as the chicken.
- Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel.
- Place the marinated onions, along with the rest of the thyme in the roasting dish, season well, and sprinkle with the olive oil. Turn the onions and thyme a couple of times so that the oil can hit the bottom of the dish as well.
- Place the chicken breast side up on top of the onions and thyme. You may want to turn the chicken legs out- akimbo, so to speak- to expose the maximum amount of skin. Season the chicken well.
- In a small bowl, mix the honey and butter( or olive oil) into a paste, and add a tiny spritz of the cider. Baste ALL of the chicken- breasts, legs, and loose bits of skin- with this mixture.
- Put the chicken in the oven, and baste with the remaining honey mixture from time to time. Keep an eye on the chicken as it roasts. The sugars in the honey can cause the skin to burn if you aren’t a bit watchful, so once the skin is a deep brown, you can cover the chicken loosely with foil.
- Test the chicken for done-ness after about 45 minutes by cutting into the thickest part of the thigh. If the juices run clear, it’s done, so take it out of the oven and remove the chicken to a warm place, and tent with foil.
For the Gravy:
- Pour the juices out of the roasting dish (reserving them), leaving about two tablespoons of the clear fat, and the onion and thyme.
- Place the roasting dish on the hob over a medium heat. Once the fat in the dish starts to bubble, add in the flour, and whisk until the flour and fat form a roux. Don’t worry if the paste forms around the onion and thyme. Just keep stirring and whisking until the flour is cooked out (about 5 minutes).
- Then pour in a few good glugs of the reserved cider, and whisk that into the roux. Cook, stirring, until you have a smooth thick sauce like double cream, and the alcohol is cooked off.
- Then pour in all but a 1/4 cup of the chicken stock, and keep stirring until the sauce is once again smooth (bearing in mind the big bits of onion and the thyme sprigs).
- Then strain the gravy (for that’s what it now is) through a sieve into a small saucepan and discard the onion and thyme.
- Stir in the rest of the stock- and any meat juices from the dish the chicken has been resting in – and let the gravy reduce over a low heat.
- Check for seasoning.
To Serve: decant your gravy into your container of choice and carve the chicken (and you won’t BELIEVE how easy this is). Voila!