The word “spatchcock” has become popular all of a sudden. On both coasts, spatchcock chicken is offered on menus as though it is a new innovation. You can …
The word “spatchcock” has become popular all of a sudden.
On both coasts, spatchcock chicken is offered on menus as though it is a new innovation. You can even buy a premarinated spatchcock chicken at a gourmet shop and cook it at home. The origin of the word is probably 18th century English or Irish, and according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means “a chicken or a game bird split open and grilled.” Needless to say, I wanted to try it and discovered it was something you could easily do yourself.
To properly spatchcock a chicken, one must use a sharp knife to remove the backbone and possibly the breastbone so that the chicken can be flattened. The advantage of doing so is that all surfaces are evenly exposed to the cooking heat, and the result is invariably crunchy and succulent.
I start with a young 3-5 pound fryer, wash it after removing it from its packaging and let it drain in a colander. Then I prepare to spatchcock by setting the chicken breast side down on a large cutting board.
Although a little time-consuming, removing the backbone is actually simple. I use a Chinese cleaver, but a good sharp chef’s knife will also work quite well. Just slide the blade along both sides of the backbone, separating it from the ribs, and remove it, in effect splitting the chicken down the back. If you wish, you can carefully dig around the breastbone and cut it away to make it easier to lay the chicken breast flat. (As an added bonus, I save these discards in a bag in the freezer with vegetable trimmings for making rich chicken stock later.)
After removing the backbone, wash the chicken again in cold water and then dry it with paper towels. It is now ready to be marinated or rubbed with seasoning. The appeal of this method is that you can use anything — your favorite rub or even bottled salad dressing — to season it.
But speaking of seasons, Autumn is here, and with it cooler temperatures.
Some people are starting to cook stews, but I want a last hurrah at the barbecue grill. At the same time, I’m looking for a dish to warm up our insides.
The answer for me is a spicy curried spatchcock chicken — a zesty and satisfying dinner for fall. You can use preblended curry powder, but it’s a lot of fun to create your own mixture by pureeing onions, garlic, ginger, jalapeños, citrus and an assortment of spices in a food processor. I love the bright color of the marinade and the yellow hue it gives the chicken when it’s grilled, both aesthetically pleasing and appetizing, too.
Typically, curries are served with a side dish of fluffy jasmine or basmati rice. But I’ve dressed it up by using coconut milk as part of the cooking liquid for a delicious and more unique rice pilaf that marries well with the savory chicken. Coconut milk is readily available, and the finished rice is a little sweet and creamy, with a delightful crunch from the brown bits that stick to the bottom of the pan.
Round out the meal with a beautiful salad. A bumper crop of delicate lettuces are available in the farmer’s market. And I’ve been tasting the most peachy peaches lately, which I utilize for everything from pies to cobbler. Peaches are a perfect addition to add to a salad, and fruit is a traditional accompaniment to curry. Sprinkling diced salty feta cheese over the top complements the sweetness of the peaches, and the salad is as tasty as it is attractive.
But back to the spatchcock process: why do it at all? Why not just buy a cut-up fryer and grill the parts separately?
I’ve learned the hard way that grilling a whole chicken usually means some parts are overdone and others are raw. Normally, I only buy whole chickens when I want to roast them.
But the beauty of spatchcocking a chicken is that it holds together and is super easy to grill. My husband says he flips it a couple of times. More important, the pieces haven’t been drying out on a plastic foam tray. The whole chicken’s natural tenderness and juiciness is preserved. And best of all, you have a visually appealing dish to serve your guests.
So, don’t be intimidated to spatchcock a chicken. You will be amazed at how effortless a process it is. And whether you decide to blend up the spices for curry or use your own concoction, I think you’ll find that spatchcock chicken will seamlessly enter your vocabulary and family bill of fare as it now has mine.
CURRIED SPATCHCOCK CHICKEN
Curry marinade (enough for 2 chickens):
1/2 large onion, cut in chunks (about 1 cup)
1 large jalapeño pepper, stemmed and seeded
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
2 large cloves garlic
1 tablespoon Hungarian paprika
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Juice of 1 lime (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1 3-4 pound whole chicken (serves 4; use 2 chickens if serving 6-8.)
Place all the ingredients for the curry into the bowl of a food processor or blender. Puree until smooth, scraping down sides several times. Scrape into a glass or ceramic bowl.
Wash the chicken thoroughly in cold water and drain it in a colander for a few minutes. Lay it breast-side down on a cutting board. With a sharp knife, cut along the sides of the backbone, separating it from the ribs, and remove it. (Feel around for tiny pieces of rib bones that may have been cut in the process and remove those too.) If you wish, remove the cartilage and breastbone.
Wash the chicken again and dry inside and out with paper towels. Place the chicken skin side down in a glass baking dish. Spread 1/4 of the marinade on the inside of the chicken. With a tongs, flip it over and apply another 1/4 of the marinade to the skin side. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Heat the grill on high. When the grill is hot, place the chicken flesh side down on the grate. Turn the grill down to low. Close the grill cover and cook for 15 minutes.
Using a tongs and a large spatula, carefully loosen the chicken from the grate. Turn it over skin side down. Cover the grill and cook for 15 minutes. Check for doneness by piercing the thigh at the thickest part; juices should run clear. You may need to flip it over again and cook for 5-10 minutes more. I recommend finishing by cooking the skin side again at the end for a couple of minutes.
To serve, garnish with lime wedges.
1-1/2 cups jasmine or basmati rice
1 16-oz can coconut milk
1 cup water
1 tablespoon coconut sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Place rice in a large bowl of cold water. With the hands, wash the rice well to remove starch. Pour off the water, and repeat once or twice, until the water is mostly clear. Drain the rice.
Combine the rice, the coconut milk, the water, the coconut sugar, and the salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar. Cover and reduce heat to lowest temperature. Cook 15-20 minutes until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender. Stir rice, scraping up any rice stuck to the pan, then cover and allow to rest for 20 minutes before serving.
BABY LETTUCE SALAD WITH PEACHES AND FETA
6 cups mixed baby lettuces, washed well and spun dry
1 large peach, washed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup diced feta cheese, or more to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons lime juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Arrange the lettuces on a platter or a shallow wide bowl. Evenly place the diced peaches over the lettuce. Sprinkle with the feta cheese.
When ready to serve, drizzle the olive oil over the lettuce, followed by the balsamic vinegar and the lime juice. Grind fresh pepper over the top. Lightly sprinkle with salt.
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