Spatchcocked Spatchcock

Spatchcocking helps these spatchcocks cook fast and delicious!

Contrary to popular belief the word spatchcock is not a sex act outlawed in Ireland, but a verb meaning to prepare a chicken or other fowl for grilling or roasting by removing the backbone and flattening the bird. Butterflying the bird in this way allows for even, fast cooking. A few days ago I bought four poussin, which is the French term for very small young chickens less than a month old. After spatchcocking, the birds cooked in under 40 minutes from start to finish and they were delicious!

While doing a little on-line research for this post, I realized that spatchcock is not only a verb, but can also be a noun. Spatchcock also (archiacally) refers to the same birds I’d bought for spatchcocking! Apparently it’s an older term still used (by some) in England and Australia for a young chicken under six weeks old, very similar in size to poussin. Seemingly over the years the name for the chicken turned into a verb describing it’s common preparation. But the verb usage became much more commonly used and the noun has (almost) faded to obscurity. Partly I think the reason for this is that few people cook these little chickens anymore; in fact, they’re only available in specialty markets or by special order. Cornish game hens (larger, slightly different crossbreed of poultry) are far more common and a decent substitute, although you’ll want to allow for another 10-15 minutes cooking time.

Poussin is French for baby chicken!

But since my local Bristol Farms market carries poussin weighing about a pound and quarter apiece, that’s what I bought and that’s what I cooked. And they were yummy, with crisp flavorful skin and moist flesh.

It’s pretty easy to butterfly the chickens. I flipped the birds breast-side down and, using a pair of heavy-duty kitchen shears I cut out the backbone and surrounding area, starting at the butt-end (near the drumsticks). I cut one side first using the ball-joint of the thigh-bone as a guide. Ideally you cut right through that joint from the bottom and follow an imaginary line straight up about a half-inch to one side of the spinal vertebrae, cutting through the thin ribs and other bones all the way to the neck area. Finish by shearing a mirror-image cut on the other side.

At this point you’re about half-cocked (!). Flip the birds breast-side up and swing the (still-connected) leg portions around so they are skin-up like the breast. With the heel of your hand press the breast down firmly until you hear a crack. The sternum will break a little, allowing you to flatten the breast. Tuck the wings-tips behind the back. You’re spatchcocks are now spatchcocked!

These spatchcocks have been spatchchocked!

Now you can do anything with them! Grilling is common, roasting too. Pressing a small spatchcocked chicken under a brick and crisping it in a skillet — that’s fun and yummy too.

This batch I roasted, simply because I was too lazy to uncover the grill. I did it like this:

I preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Then I sliced a bunch of oranges which I harvested from my sister Laura’s tree and laid them down in a single layer on a lightly oiled sheet pan. I oiled the oranges a tiny bit as well. Then I generously seasoned the chicken with my Vaguely North-African Spice Rub (recipe below). After applying the spice I used my hands to rub olive oil all over the chickens.

I laid the spatchcocks out comfortably on the bed of oranges. I roasted them for 15 minutes and then reduced the heat to 375. I roasted them for another 20 minutes and then checked for doneness by wiggling the leg. It didn’t feel loose yet so I roasted another five minutes, removed the pan from the oven, and allowed the birds to rest for ten minutes. Then I carved them up and we ate them.

These birds were delicious with a crisp salad, some warm flatbread, and some tzatziki. And a refreshing glass of white wine!

My chickens recline comfortably on their bed of sliced oranges.

Vaguely North-African Spice Rub:

1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried mint leaf
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds (ground with a mortar and pestle)
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon sugar

Combine well.

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