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Anne's Kitchen: What's in a word? A funny term, but great chicken


A spatchcocked chicken is one that has been split open for grilling or oven roasting.

A spatchcocked chicken is one that has been split open for grilling or oven roasting.


Anne Freeze



Last week I spatchcocked a chicken! No need to blush; spatchcock is a culinary term referring to removing the backbone of poultry to flatten the bird for cooking. It is a truly funny word, and I have been wondering for some time what the origin of it is. So, I did a little reading up and find that it has been around for quite some time. There are mixed notions of its first use, but many agree that it comes from the 18th century and is either Irish or English. A similar word, "spitchcock," was used to refer to eel that was chopped into sections and fried. I also saw a reference that the word was used for a culled immature male chicken. 


However our Irish or English ancestors used the term, today it is a giggly word for a most wonderful method of preparing fowl. And it is so very easy! I will refer you to YouTube if you want a visual demonstration. To summarize the method: 


  • Turn a 3-4 pound chicken breast-side down in front of you with the "parson's nose" facing you. This is that glob of fat at one end of the bird. 


  • Using sharp kitchen shears, cut down one side of the backbone to the other end. 


  • Now, cut down the backbone on the other side and remove it, saving to use for stock. This cutting is not hard to do, but you will cut through some rib bones and so you need to have good shears. 


  • Flip the chicken over, breast-side up, and press down in the middle to flatten the chicken. You can remove the sternum bone for an even flatter chicken, but it's not really necessary. 


    And voila -- you have a spatchcock chicken! You can proceed to oven-roast or grill your chicken. I didn't really plan ahead when I did mine, but I did have a lemon on hand. I sprinkled the chicken with Jane's Crazy Salt and some pepper and then thickly sliced the lemon. I inserted thick garlic slivers in the middle of the lemon and lay the chicken over the lemons, skin side up, on a rack on a pan. I roasted it at 350 F for about 30 minutes and then turned it up to 400 F for 15 minutes to brown the skin. It was yummy. 


    One more note on the use of the word "spatchcock." You will find it used interchangeably with "butterfly," however, the noted cookbook author and teacher Anne Willan strongly disagrees with this. She notes that, "To butterfly is to cut a single slit more or less through the middle of a usually boneless piece of meat, poultry, fish, even a vegetable, so it can be opened up in the manner of butterfly wings. It may be cooked flat or stuffed and reshaped. To spatchcock is much more specific, applied only to poultry as far as I know, and almost always to small birds -- quail, pigeon, small chickens." So, there. 


    Below are some recipes for you to try. I wanted to make the buttermilk marinated chicken last week, but realized too late that I didn't have enough buttermilk. I do plan to make it this week. 








    1 4-pound chicken 


    2 cups buttermilk 


    1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 


    2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed 


    1 tablespoon crushed black peppercorns 


    1 tablespoon Maldon or other sea salt 


    2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, roughly chopped 


    1 tablespoon honey 




  • Butterfly chicken by placing breast side down and using heavy-duty kitchen shears to cut along both sides of backbone. Discard backbone, turn chicken over and open it like a book. Press gently to flatten it. 


  • Place chicken in a large freezer bag. Add buttermilk, 1/4 cup oil, garlic, peppercorns, salt, rosemary and honey. Seal bag securely and refrigerate overnight or up to two days. 


  • Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Remove chicken from marinade and place on a rack so excess can drip off. Line a roasting pan with foil and place chicken in pan. Drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Roast for 45 minutes, then reduce heat to 325 degrees. Continue roasting until well browned and until juices run clear when chicken is pierced where leg joins thigh,about another 20 minutes. 


  • Place chicken on a carving board and allow to rest for 10 minutes before cutting into serving pieces. Place a portion on each of four plates, and drizzle each serving with pan juices. 








    1 cup olive oil 


    1/4 cup fresh lemon juice 


    6 cloves garlic, finely chopped 


    2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves 


    2 (3-pound) chickens, butterflied 


    Salt and freshly ground black pepper 


    Lemon wedges, for garnish 


    4 clean bricks 




  • Whisk together the oil, lemon juice, garlic and rosemary in a large baking dish. Add the chickens and turn to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, or up to 4 hours. 


  • Preheat the grill to medium. Wrap 4 bricks in aluminum foil and set aside. Remove the chickens from the marinade, blot off excess oil, and season with salt and pepper on both sides.  


  • Place chickens on the grill, skin-side down, and place 2 bricks on top of each chicken. Grill chicken for 8-10 minutes, then turn over, and return the bricks to the chickens, being sure to flip the bricks so the clean side touches the chicken. Close the cover and continue cooking 8-10 minutes or until cooked through (thighs register 165 degrees). Let rest 10 minutes and cut into quarters. Serve with lemon wedges.



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