Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sounds Naughty…Tastes Nice

While it sounds like something Anthony Weiner might have photographed and sent to some unsuspecting object of his (misplaced) affection, spatchcocking has a long and storied history in Britain. Contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood explains.

Ass-backward Spatchcocking

After cooking dozens of whole chickens, I’ve changed my approach. There wasn’t anything wrong with how I’d been cooking them. I rubbed the skin with plenty of salt, and if I had time I’d let them sit overnight, uncovered in the refrigerator, to let the salt do its work and dry out the skin at the same time. Roasted in the oven or on the Weber, the chickens were always good, with crackling skin and moist, tender flesh.

But I’ve switched to spatchcocking. I have mixed feeling about the term “spatchcock.” Admittedly a great word, its origins ambiguous but decidedly British, quirky consonants sounded at beginning, middle and end. But it’s right on the edge of being too precious. That said, once you know what it means, it does its job perfectly. Why say you’re splitting a whole chicken down the middle for spread-eagled cooking? All you need is “spatchcock.”

I’m less ambiguous about the actual deed. Spatchcocking, by definition, is splitting a chicken or similar fowl down the back. Once split, the bird is spread open and cooked, either roasted, grilled or on the stovetop, sometimes under a brick. However it’s cooked, heat penetrates faster, and a whole chicken can be done more quickly.

The back itself is usually discarded (or saved for stock, if you’re conscientious). But if you’re married to an Italian American, especially one whose Sicilian nonna showed her how to wring every morsel of edible goodness from a chicken, you want to cook that back.

So, when I decided to deviate from my usual approach to roasting chicken, I opted to split the birds down the front. It’s actually easier than cutting out the back, requiring a single knife stroke through the keel bone. Once the bird’s been cut, I presalt as usual.

I‘ve cooked ass-backward spatchcocked chicken in the oven, simply splayed out in a big cast iron skillet. But the Weber does a much better job. Build your fire at one end (preferably with real wood charcoal, aka lump briquet), add a few sticks of hardwood if you like a smoky note (I save the trimmings from my fruit trees, but you can buy hardwood chunks for grilling), and put the chicken, skin side up, breasts toward the heat, as far away from the fire as you can.

Once the chicken is on the grill, cover it and follow this advice from Francis Mallmann: Don’t touch it. (From his great book, "Seven Fires,"about Argentinean fire cookery) After an hour or so, lift the lid and check the bird. At this point you can turn it over to crisp the skin a little more, but it might not need it. When it’s done to your liking, take the chicken off the grill and let it sit for at least 20 minutes before you cut it apart.

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