We eat a lot of chicken at my house—it’s cheap, versatile and good for you. But we are dark meat people—legs for me, thighs for my beloved and we’ll both choose a back over everything when available. We OD’ed on white meat with the creation of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. They were convenient, but you really had to do something special to them to make them taste good. Our kids prefer the dark meat as well, so when it came to the Thanksgiving bird, the breast was the last to go, ending up mostly in the post turkey day tetrazzini and then turkey noodle soup. It’s just not good by itself…until I discovered spatchcock chicken.
Spatchcock is a term used regularly in a professional kitchen and simply refers to butterflying (usually fowl). Its etymology is varied, but the one that makes most sense to me is rooted in Ireland with the spatch portion of the word as a derivative of dispatch (as in fast) and cock for bird. To me, spatchcock means the very best way to cook a chicken to obtain the most scrumptious results every time. It shows up on our table just about once a week. Also, it’s really fun to say—particularly after you’ve had a couple glasses of wine.
What makes spatchcock unique is cutting out the backbone and breaking the breast-bone, thereby making the bird all the same thickness. Another beautiful thing about spatchcock chicken is that it is roasted at a high temp for a shorter amount of time, cooking the dark meat to perfection while maintaining a juicy succulent breast—also, the skin will be super crispy. The total roast time for a 4-pound bird is about 50 minutes, making for an easy go-to weeknight culinary delight.
The other great thing about this process is schmaltz. Good gugga-mugga, the schmaltz is the AMAZING byproduct of a roasted bird. By spatchcocking, there is more surface of the bird to render this liquid gold, making for an unforgettable side, roasting broccoli or (our favorite) Brussels sprouts as the bird rests.
So here’s how you do it.
The ideal size bird is between 4 and 5 pounds. Remove the bird from its packaging (DO NOT RINSE IT!) and place breast side down.
Preheat oven to 425°, moving oven rack to lower middle position
Starting from the pope’s nose, cut along the side of the backbone with kitchen shears, continuing to cut all the way through the ribs to the end
Repeat on the other side of backbone and set it aside.
Now, turn the bird over and with the heel of your hand(s), press firmly between the breasts until you hear (or feel) the breastbone break.
Dry bird with paper towels, then season liberally on both sides with kosher salt and pepper (backbone too!)
Place chicken and backbone on a prepared large rimmed baking sheet and roast in preheated oven with the legs pointed toward the back of the oven for 50 minutes
Remove when breast registers 160° and deepest part of thigh is 170°; the bird will continue to cook as it rests
Let rest at least 10 minutes before carving—but munch on the backbone right away to give yourself a taste of what’s to come. I’m betting it will become your favorite part of the bird!
If you want a super easy and delectable side, add broccoli florets or trimmed halved Brussels sprouts in schmaltz, sprinkling with kosher salt and pepper and stir. Pop back into the oven, stir after about 8 minutes and return to oven until cooked to your liking—we like a little crunch left in our veggies though honestly, you can’t screw this up. It is soooo good!
A couple of other things—consider doing steps 2-5 the night before you want to serve this, except place on a rack and put in the fridge UNCOVERED to air dry, which will make for an even crispier skin. Also, a spatchcocked bird is GREAT for the grill, with the aid of a brick. But that’s another recipe for another time.