So, rather like the DJ I never was, but always secretly thought I could be if I could just get my hands on 1,000 records, 2 gold Technics 1200s, and 5 years to practice in my bedroom, I’m starting this post, or jam, if you will, by giving a series of shout outs. The first big shout goes out to Steven “Steve” Raichlen of the seemingly discontinued, but wrongfully so, PBS show Barbecue University for initially encouraging us to give this a try and then providing us with a couple of simple and tasty variations. And the second holla is at Peter of Kalofagas who reminded us that we had been meaning to write this post for quite a while with his recent, delicious-looking piece on churrasco chicken.
You see, for a while now we’ve been convinced that the problem with so much chicken, like many kinds of poultry, is that when cooked whole, some parts end up perfectly cooked and other parts under-done, or in order to remedy this, some parts get overcooked and dry, so that the other bits are done right. It’s a dilemma which faces every American household at Thanksgiving every year, and frankly, I’ve yet to eat a turkey anywhere that was cooked in one piece that didn’t have dry breast meat. In fact, it gets even worse in the summer when you’re over at the neighbors’ house and they stick a load of chicken drumsticks in bbq-sauce on the grill. 20 minutes later they’re black on the outside and bloody and gross on the inside. That’s really quite unpleasant. However, we think we’ve found a solution to these common problems in spatchcock. Yes, you heard it right, spatchcock.
The derivation of the term is uncertain. Some suggest it is a contraction of the phrase “dispatch the cock” but I’m not sure about that. It just sounds unlikely. Similarly, the inventor of this technique is also unknown, but it is used widely throughout the world in recipes that call for the grilling of a whole bird because it results in deliciously moist flesh throughout, every time. And I mean, every time. It’s almost a fool-proof recipe providing you have a moderate level of control over your limbs and have some concept of fire-safety. Here’s how to do it:
Spatchcock Chicken (with adobo rub)
1 large oven-roaster chicken (about 3-4 lbs)
5-6 tbsp adobo seasoning/rub (this can either be store bought adobo – Goya brand – or you can make your own (see below)
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp lemon pepper
Combine dry spices in a bowl or make double/triple quantities and store in an airtight jar for later.
*Please note that adobo doesn’t necessarily have a set recipe. It has commonly recurring ingredients, but like many recetas de abuela each one is slightly different.
How to “spatch” the cock: (follow the illustrated step-by-step)
- Take a pair of good, strong scissors or kitchen shears. Pat your chicken dry with some kitchen paper/towels and place it breast side down on a cutting board.
- With your scissors cut along one side of the backbone – breaking through the ribs with a satisfying “snick” – all the way through to the other end. Turn the chicken around and cut along other side of the backbone, so you’re left with the intact backbone in one hand, the scissors in the other, and a chicken with long gap in its back.
- Now press down on the sides (ribs) of the chicken either side of the breastbone until you hear another little crunch. Feel free to slice open the membrane surrounding the breast bone and remove that too, but it’s kind of a pain and I nearly always end up savaging the breast meat by being clumsy. Anyway, what you get is a chicken that’s now mostly flat.
- Take your scissors again and trim off the wing tips at the first joint. These tend to burn when cooked.
- Next, make two small incisions into the flaps of skin below the breast (at the leg end) and poke the legs through these holes. This will help keep your bird flat. Be careful not to rip these holes as you do this, as you want your first spatchcock to look as good as it tastes, right?
- Then, you’re almost ready. (see how simple this is?) Rub your bird very lightly with olive oil – do not drench it or the spices will all just slide off. Then sprinkle very liberally all over with the adobo rub, patting it on to make sure it sticks. It might look like you’ve used a lot of rub here, and you have, but some will fall off during cooking, and you’re not flavoring the chicken with anything else, so you can afford to be generous. Let your chicken sit with the rub on it, at room temperature for at least fifteen minutes before cooking.
- Now, you need to prepare your grill. And this must be done on a grill. Okay, it can be done in the oven and turn out well, but with spring approaching you just can’t beat the al fresco cooking experience.
- Before igniting anything, make sure your grill is clean. Remove the grate and fire up the grill – charcoal or gas, is fine. You want the grill at around 350F. If you’re using charcoal make sure you can rearrange the coals once they’re ready. And if you’re using gas, make sure you can control which burners are on or off – this is crucial to success here because the perfect spatchcock chicken is cooked using indirect heat.
- When grill is up to temperature, rearrange charcoal (or turn burners on or off) so that you can fit a 10-inch aluminum baking pan containing about an inch of water in the middle of the grill so that it is not directly over the heat source. Replace your grate and brush with oil. Close lid of grill and allow to return to 350F – about five minutes. If you’re using gas you might have to fiddle with the temperature a little because you’ll almost certainly have to turn off at least one of the burners.
- Anyway, when the thermometer reads 350F place your chicken breast-side up on the grill directly over the baking pan and let it cook for at least 25 minutes. All the while making sure the temperature remains at least 350F. Do not peek at the chicken. It’s doing fine by itself. Every time you even crack the lid a little you add five minutes to the cooking time!
- Then after 25 minutes, turn your chicken over and cook for another 25 minutes. Depending on your grill you might want to power it up a bit here. You’ll know how it’s doing by how well colored the skin has become. If it’s still looking a bit pale it might either need longer at 350F or a bit more heat. We typically crank it up to a shade over 400F for the last fifteen minutes to make sure the skin gets crispy, which, apart from moist flesh, is the principal requirement of any roasted/grilled poultry.
- When your chicken is looking golden brown or perhaps a shade or two darker, take it off the grill and tent it lightly in foil for around fifteen minutes. We rarely use our meat thermometer because it’s not accurate, but if you have one you trust, now would be a good time to give it blast. Remember, always check the bit between the breast and the thigh. Generally speaking though, if the juices in the leg are running clear at this point, you’re in a good shape.
We ate our adobo spatchcock chicken with some roasted potatoes and a mixed green salad, but frankly these accompaniments are just gilding the lily. If you’ve done this right, the chicken itself will be almost too delicious to adulterate with any side dishes.
Naturally, you can flavor your chicken with anything you like. We’ve made north African-spiced chickens, Pollo alla Diavola (Tuscan-style chicken with red pepper flakes), Thai-perfumed birds, and “summer chicken” rubbed with thyme, rosemary, sage, salt and butter, amongst others. Again, the point is not the flavorings you use, but how perfectly this technique cooks chicken. The breast stays moist, the legs are cooked perfectly and the skin gets crispy. And it works every time. I’m planning to spatchcock a chicken every week now it’s getting warmer.