Spatchcocking the bird

With the ubiquity of roasted or rotisserie chickens in virtually every decent supermarket, or out of a truck in the parking lot, has the skill of knowing how to roast a chicken run its course? What could be easier than turning up at the meat counter and having the butcher de-skewer a freshly rotisseried chicken, tuck it into a greaseproof bag, and in no time at all you’ve got dinner sorted. In the past if I was short on time….and energy, I’ve gone for this easy option. There is one major drawback: salt. Without fail, each roasted chicken I’ve ever bought is always much saltier than I like in my food. Why then would I buy a pre-roasted chicken rather than do it myself? Basically, I was scared.

When I was growing up my mom perfectly roasted a chicken almost every Sunday night. By the time I reached my 20s and took an interest in cooking – there was no one to cook for me anymore – there was a Boston Market right around the corner from me in Chicago. Why spend the time cooking, and potentially ruining, a chicken when I could just buy a perfectly cooked one each time? Now in my mid-40s, I regret never having spent a moment attempting something that turned out to be so easy. All it took for me to try, and succeed, was a random article from a Chicago paper about Spatchcocked Chicken.

Even though it sounds like a silly word, spatchcocking is a method of preparing poultry for roasting, specifically by removing the spine. Once removed with poultry shears or butcher’s knife, the ribcage is cracked so the bird can be flattened. By doing this, and with the addition of some heavy bricks and a cast-iron skillet, you can cook the chicken much quicker, keep it juicy, and with crispy skin.

Ingredients

  • 1.5kg chicken
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • Seasonings of choice (dried thyme, rosemary, and sage are tasty)
  • 2 bricks, wrapped in foil
  • Cast-iron, or oven-safe, skillet (check to see if chicken fits inside after being cut open. You may have to play around with the drumsticks. See notes if it won’t fit)

Dressing

  • 1 chicken spine (cut into 3 cm segments)
  • 1 medium-sized onion – roughly chopped
  • 1 rib celery – roughly chopped
  • 1 carrot – roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic – smashed
  • 500 ml chicken stock
  • 200 ml dry sherry or white wine
  • Herbs used to season chicken
  • Olive oil
  • Corn starch
  • Salt (if needed)
  • Pepper
                                                            .
   
  • Ingredients

    Ingredients

  • Chicken

    Chicken

  • For gravy

    For gravy

  • Heat cast-iron

    Heat cast-iron

  • Brick it!

    Brick it!

  • Gravy

    Gravy

  • Done roasting

    Done roasting

  • Resting

    Resting

  • Dinner

    Dinner

Directions

Before starting, check your oven to see if it can hold the weight of a cast-iron skillet, with the two bricks. If the rack bows too much, skip the bricks.

  • With shears or butcher’s knife remove the spine of the chicken. Flip the bird over so the inside is on the cutting board, and press down hard on the breastbone to flatten the bird out. You can snip off the wing tips as these will dry out during cooking; use when preparing gravy.Tip – Put the bird uncovered in the fridge for 3 hours to allow the skin to dry out a bit. This will aid in crisping.
  • Preheat the oven to 450F or 230C. Drizzle some oil on the bird, add salt (about 5 or 6 good grinds) and pepper, and cover with whatever seasonings you would like (fresh or dried thyme, rosemary, and sage work well together but I used Za’atar with some sumac since mine didn’t have it).
  • Preheat cast-iron skillet with med-high heat and a splash of sunflower oil (olive oil’s smoke point is too low). Place opened bird, skin side down, and top with foil-wrapped bricks. Cook 3-5 minutes for a good sear then transfer to the oven (carefully!!!) to roast on the middle rack for 15 minutes.
  • After 15 minutes remove the bricks and place somewhere safe to cool. With a good set of tongs, flip the bird (the one in the oven not in your hand) being careful not to rip the skin on the bottom of the skillet. Roast an additional 25-30 minutes or until the thickest part of the thigh reads 74C. I found a 1.5kg bird cooks in about 25 minutes after flipping.
  • Transfer chicken from skillet to carving board. As difficult as it can be, please allow the chicken to rest for 10 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the bird. Carve and serve.

While roasting prepare the dressing (gravy):

  • Snip the spine into thumb-sized segments.
  • In a saucepan with a sprinkling of olive oil on medium-high hear, brown spine and wing tips. Add onion, celery, carrot and lightly brown in the pan. You are looking for browned not burnt.
  • Deglaze bottom of the pan with splash of sherry, wine, or chicken stock; just enough to scrape up all the tasty browned bits, or fond.
  • Add in all liquids and extra herbs. Simmer for 20 minutes and spoon off the scum.
  • Strain liquid into a fresh pot and return to heat until liquid has decreased in volume by half. Taste for seasoning. If the gravy is not thick enough, mix a few spoonfuls of cold water with 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and stir in to thicken to the consistency you like.
  • Squeeze in a bit of lemon juice to brighten up the flavor. Remove from heat and cover until ready to eat.

 

Source material: Serious Eats, Chicago Tribune

Note – If you do not have a cast iron, or oven safe, skillet, you can just roast the bird skin-side up on top of a wire-racked baking sheet. Cooking time should be increased by about 5 minutes so total roasting time in the oven is about 50-55mins. Check thigh to read 74C.