As the holidays approach I’ve been squirreling away notes and ideas for Thanksgiving dinner. The list of dishes that I want to cook and the available time in any given day seem to grow farther apart with each passing week. Saturday night I threw down some Pad Si Eww Pok Pok style and Friday night was a trial run on documenting my meatloaf recipe.
Sunday dinner is an opportunity to bring folks together for a casual time to reconnect. With the impending work week and school it’s established that it won’t be a late night.
One idea that I’ve been toying with for thanksgiving is butterflying the turkey. Spatchcocking is the technical term for it and my kids in particular are tired of hearing me explain the finer points of the technique. And so it is that on this weekend that I’m spatchcocking a pair of brined chickens with the anticipation of doing roasted chicken.
Spatchcocking is a simple but potentially intimidating technique. Essentially you are cutting the back out of the bird and then flattening the breast. This is a perfect technique for grilling a whole bird but can also be effective for oven cooking. I read an article long ago in Cooks Illustrated about this approach - their argument for doing so was to expose the dark meat to more reflective heat than one would achieve roasting the bird whole.
I’ve also seen spatchcocked Gai Yang - Thai Grilled Chicken with bamboo skewers through the bird to hold it flat. I prefer a foil wrapped fire brick, but that is a story for another day.
Roasting a chicken is always a battle between getting all the parts cooked and at the same time not drying out other parts - the breasts are dry and thighs are perfect or the breasts are juicy and the thighs undercooked. One time tested technique for ensuring a tender roasted chicken is to brine it.
Harold McGee - the godfather of kitchen science - argues against wet brining. Alton Brown and Michael Rhulman provide a lot of examples where it helps. I think brining in this case, because we’re going for a very high heat roast, is appropriate.
On to the spatchcocking. The easiest and safest method is to use kitchen shears. With the chicken breast side down on a cutting board, cut about 1/2 inch from the center from the cavity opening to the front of the bird. Repeat on the other side. Remove the backbone and turn the chicken over. Press down on the center of the chicken. You will hear and feel a slight cracking as the breasts flatten out. You’ve spatchcocked the chicken!
You can perform the same with a chef’s knife - be careful - you want to ensure that the only bone and flesh being cut is that of the bird!
- 1 chicken, 3-5 lbs
- 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 qts water
- Butter Mixture
- 4 oz butter softened
- 1 tbsp dijon mustard
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- Prepare brine mixing salt, sugar and water together.
- Submerge chicken in brine for one hour
- Meanwhile mixup butter mixture.
- Remove chicken from brine and rinse. Pat dry.
- Loosen skin and spread the butter underneath the skin, massaging it into the bird.
- Put chicken on a cookie sheet and refrigerate for a few hours - this is not strictly necessary but the drying time in the refrigerator will yield up a crispy skin. So crispy that you’ll put aside your healthy convictions about not eating chicken skin.
- Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
- Rub chicken skin with olive oil.
- Cook for a total of 45 minutes, turning once. Check for internal temperature of 160 in the breast.
- Let rest when done for 15 minutes.
- Carve and serve.
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