CURRIED SPATCHCOCK CHICKEN made easy
The word “spatchcock” has become popular all of a sudden.
On both coasts, spatchcock chicken is offered on menus as though it is a new innovation. You can even buy a premarinated spatchcock chicken at a gourmet shop and cook it at home. The origin of the word is probably 18th century English or Irish, and according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means “a chicken or a game bird split open and grilled.” Needless to say, I wanted to try it and discovered it was something you could easily do yourself.
To properly spatchcock a chicken, one must use a sharp knife to remove the backbone and possibly the breastbone so that the chicken can be flattened. The advantage of doing so is that all surfaces are evenly exposed to the cooking heat, and the result is invariably crunchy and succulent.
I start with a young 3-5 pound fryer, wash it after removing it from its packaging and let it drain in a colander. Then I prepare to spatchcock by setting the chicken breast side down on a large cutting board.
Although a little time-consuming, removing the backbone is actually simple. I use a Chinese cleaver, but a good sharp chef’s knife will also work quite well. Just slide the blade along both sides of the backbone, separating it from the ribs, and remove it, in effect splitting the chicken down the back. If you wish, you can carefully dig around the breastbone and cut it away to make it easier to lay the chicken breast flat. (As an added bonus, I save these discards in a bag in the freezer with vegetable trimmings for making rich chicken stock later.)
After removing the backbone, wash the chicken again in cold water and then dry it with paper towels. It is now ready to be marinated or rubbed with seasoning. The appeal of this method is that you can use anything – your favorite rub or even bottled salad dressing – to season it.
But speaking of seasons, Autumn is here, and with it cooler temperatures.
Some people are starting to cook stews, but I want a last hurrah at the barbecue grill. At the same time, I’m looking for a dish to warm up our insides.
The answer for me is a spicy curried spatchcock chicken – a zesty and satisfying dinner for fall. You can use preblended curry powder, but it’s a lot of fun to create your own mixture by pureeing onions, garlic, ginger, jalapeños, citrus and an assortment of spices in a food processor. I love the bright color of the marinade and the yellow hue it gives the chicken when it’s grilled, both aesthetically pleasing and appetizing, too.
Typically, curries are served with a side dish of fluffy jasmine or basmati rice. But I’ve dressed it up by using coconut milk as part of the cooking liquid for a delicious and more unique rice pilaf that marries well with the savory chicken. Coconut milk is readily available, and the finished rice is a little sweet and creamy, with a delightful crunch from the brown bits that stick to the bottom of the pan.
Round out the meal with a beautiful salad. A bumper crop of delicate lettuces are available in the farmer’s market. And I’ve been tasting the most peachy peaches lately, which I utilize for everything from pies to cobbler. Peaches are a perfect addition to add to a salad, and fruit is a traditional accompaniment to curry. Sprinkling diced salty feta cheese over the top complements the sweetness of the peaches, and the salad is as tasty as it is attractive.
But back to the spatchcock process: why do it at all? Why not just buy a cut-up fryer and grill the parts separately?
I’ve learned the hard way that grilling a whole chicken usually means some parts are overdone and others are raw. Normally, I only buy whole chickens when I want to roast them.
But the beauty of spatchcocking a chicken is that it holds together and is super easy to grill. My husband says he flips it a couple of times. More important, the pieces haven’t been drying out on a plastic foam tray. The whole chicken’s natural tenderness and juiciness is preserved. And best of all, you have a visually appealing dish to serve your guests.
So, don’t be intimidated to spatchcock a chicken. You will be amazed at how effortless a process it is. And whether you decide to blend up the spices for curry or use your own concoction, I think you’ll find that spatchcock chicken will seamlessly enter your vocabulary and family bill of fare as it now has mine.
Although a little time-consuming, removing the backbone is actually simple.
The beauty of spatchcocking a chicken is that it holds together and is super easy to grill.
To properly spatchcock a chicken, one must use a sharp knife to remove the backbone and possibly the breastbone so that the chicken can be flattened.
By spatchcocking, the whole chicken’s natural tenderness and juiciness is preserved. And best of all, you have a visually appealing dish to serve your guests.