Saturday, July 18, 2009

Culinary Term of the Day: Spatchcocking

I’ve always wanted to try making brick chicken, a process whereby you flatten a whole chicken and cook it under bricks or other weight. Traditionally this is started on the stove, to get the skin nice and crispy, then flipped and finished in the oven. But it’s summertime and I don’t want to turn that oven on, so I decided to try doing it on the grill.

The biggest stumbling block you may have to fixing this very easy dish is preparing the chicken for the grill. The trick to using this method is flattening the chicken so that it cooks evenly and gets crispy. This requires a good knife or pair of kitchen shears and the willingness to try. It doesn’t have to be done perfectly, as the chicken really doesn’t care and your family won’t either once all is said and done. The flattening, or spatchcocking as it is technically called, is done by cutting out the spine, opening up the bird and flattening it out with the heel of your hand. It takes less than 2 minutes and no particular skill. You can watch a quick video here to see how easily it can be done or check out this step-by-step photo shoot.

Once you have completed the spatchcocking, it’s time to marinate the bird. You should steer clear of marinades with sugar, as it will cause flare-ups on the BBQ, which you need to avoid. After a few hours of bathing your little beauty in some tasty marinade, it’s time to put the flattened chicken on the grill. This method does involve a bit of babysitting here and there and a kitchen timer, but it is no more effort than cooking a soup or stew, and takes less than an hour. We cooked it on a gas grill, which we kept covered for all but the first 5 minutes. The recipe also explains how to do it with charcoal, but I have not tested this method. In addition, we did not have bricks, so we used a large paving stone wrapped in foil. This can be a bit more difficult, as its size and weight are bit more unwieldy than two or three separate bricks, but it worked just fine.

The chicken did indeed have crispy skin and was moist. The legs and thighs came off easily, as did the breast meat. The chicken did marinate for 5 hours, but the flavor was not very pronounced. I would recommend amping up the flavor a bit by stuffing garlic, herbs and lemon slices under the skin before marinating. Overall, it was a good lesson on spatchcocking and gave us a new way to cook chicken. Brilliant Daughter just found a recipe on using the brick method with boneless breasts that only takes 6-7 minutes to cook on the grill. I’ll have to put that one the list to try!

1 whole chicken (4-5 pounds)
1 teaspoon coarse salt,
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (thyme, sage, oregano and rosemary work well)
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
1/4 cup olive oil

Prepare chicken by removing spine and flattening out. Place chicken in flat pan to marinate, (9x13 baking pan works well). Combine marinade ingredients and pour over the chicken, rubbing it into both sides. Cover with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 to 12 hours.

Wrap several bricks in aluminum foil. Ready your charcoal or gas grill. If using charcoal, make sure that 1/3 of the grill has no hot charcoal below; with a gas grill, turn off one burner. Brush grill with oil to prevent sticking and place your chicken, skin side down over the heat. Do not close the barbecue.

Due to the marinade and chicken fat, the grill may flare up. If this happens, move chicken over to the unheated side until it subsides (on a gas grill you can just squirt the flame with some water), then transfer back to heat. Cook for 5 minutes. Then, shift chicken to unheated side of grill, cover with your bricks and grill for an additional 15 minutes. Turn the chicken over, place it on the hot side of the grill, cover with your bricks and cook another 20 minutes. At this point you can take the weight off and flip the bird one last time and test for doneness. (Safe internal temperature should be 180 degrees and juice from the thigh should run clear when poked.) Check every 5 minutes until cooked.

Remove chicken from grill, rest for 5 minutes and cut into serving pieces.

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