Has this ever happened to you? You’ve been cooking up a storm, roasting a chicken, which fills up the house with all kinds of delicious fragrances while it's cooking, and then you bite into the chicken and...
AAAAAACK!!!! Dry! Dry! Dry!
There are some things that taste as good as they smell. But chicken is often not one of them. Dry chicken is like the eleventh plague of Pesach. (Just tying this in here to keep it seasonal!)
And whole roast chicken is the WORST, hands-down. The breast (my grandmother used to call it the "keel" to be polite, but I don't know if this ever caught on) is up there, proud and tall (we've bred our chickens to be built like this), while the lesser thighs (lots of kosher stores call them “backs” to be polite) bask in all the juices and generally turn out okay. (This is the bit I usually eat.)
Another problem with roasting a whole chicken? By the time the thighs (way down at the bottom) are done, the breast (way up at the top) is overdone. We do all sorts of desperate things to prevent dryness in our chicken. Cooking it upside-down. Cooking it in bags. With fruit. Sticking a beer can up inside.
Any cook worth her salt will tell you that if you want things to cook evenly, you should make them all about the same size and ensure that they are in even contact with the heat source (in this case, the heat source is the hot air of the oven). Flat things cook better than misshapen lumpy things like a whole chicken. If only we could change the basic shape of a chicken!
Oh, wait, there is. There’s one quick and easy fix to the dry whole “wrong-shaped for cooking chicken” dilemma: spatchcocking.
Spatchcocking (I think it’s also known as “butterflying”? – or maybe it should be) will…
- Give you a flat, evenly-shaped bird
- Cook your whole chicken faster
- Ensure even cooking, so no parts are over- or undercooked
There is one caveat, however: it's not for the squeamish. If you like to upend your chicken into a pan and pretend it was never part of an animal (let alone a whole animal unto itself), then this is not the prep style for you.
But if you're a sucker for tasty, juicy chicken, maybe it is.
Here's the only thing you need to know about spatchcocking: cut out the backbone and squash the chicken flat in a pan. Season to taste, of course. Cooking time is about the same as it would be for chicken PARTS, rather than a whole chicken, so you'll also shave about 20-30 minutes off that.
The easiest way to start is with a good pair of kitchen shears or poultry scissors (the poultry ones are nice, but any good, sharp pair will do – mine are by Victorinox). (It feels shocking at first to be using scissors on meat, but remember that scissors are nothing by two knives joined by the crushing force of a lever.)
Cut down both sides of the spine, top to bottom. I’m not going to include a picture here, because it’s kind of horrifying, but you can google “spatchcock spine” to see how it’s done. Take the spine (usually, the neck is attached) and toss it in the soup that you are of course bubbling on the stove at the same time. If you’re not currently making soup, just pop the spine in a baggie and save it in the freezer until you feel like making soup.
Now, turn the chicken face down on your cutting board and gently PUSH it into a flat shape, like this:
Most people arrange their spatchcocked bird into an oddly knock-kneed form, but when I did mine last night, I crossed the legs as seen below. It seems daintier that way, and turns the chicken into a convenient solid-square shape.
Rub it all over with something to keep it moist, and season in any way you like your chicken seasoned. I used a premixed Tuscan-style salt seasoning mixture, but really, anything works. For mine, I put a cut lemon underneath it, along with potatoes and some red onions. This was a smallish chicken (1.6 kg) and I roasted it just over 200C (sorry, US folks, everything here is metric!) for maybe 60-70 minutes? And then… forgot to take a picture, of course.
Here’s what mine looked like going in, anyway:
Serving a chicken made this way, you won’t get the same giorious presentation as you do with the whole ceremony of slicing into a whole roast chicken. But the flavour and juiciness should more than make up for that.
I’ve read that spatchcocking also works wonders on a grill… you can use skewers to hold the shape until it’s cooked so you don’t have legs and arms splaying out everywhere. Maybe we’ll try that out next week on our brand-new Weber BBQ!!!
In the meantime, happy Pesach – חג כשר ושמח לכולם!!!
Feel like sharing your Pesach chicken secrets??? Go ahead and dish!