No, spatchcock is not a foul word…it’s actually a fowl word.
To spatchcock a chicken is to basically butterfly it. It’s a method of flattening the chicken prior to cooking by removing the backbone. It’s not a process specific to only chickens, but can also be applied to any type of poultry, as well. Cornish game hens make a great presentation when prepared this way. It’s a secret you might want to keep up your sleeve the next time you’re running a bit behind on that Thanksgiving turkey.
Food historians dispute the exact origin of the term, but many suggest it originated in Ireland around the late 1700’s and was a shortened version of of dispatch the cock. The word “dispatch” is where the true definition gets cloudy. Some say dispatch means to take the cock apart, as in removing the backbone. Others suggest it refers to the quick cooking time a spatchcocked bird provides. Delving into old English haunts me as I remember the horrifying times spent trying to get through Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in school. Let’s just keep a culinary discussion going and skip English class today.
Why Spatchcock a Chicken?
- A spatchcocked chicken cooks faster and more evenly. The increased surface area is able conduct heat much faster than that of a whole bird.
- Spatchcocking also exposes more of the skin to the heat which results in more crisp skin. You know we all like our crisp skin.
- The nature of the flattened out bird gives us much more surface area to work with. No more fighting with the cavity. Consider this extra area an expanded palette for your flavor masterpiece. More area for rubs, sauces and other seasonings.
- A whole chicken saves money. It’s much less expensive to buy a whole chicken than the sum of its parts.
- Sure, you could could cut up your whole chicken into pieces, but let’s face it…a spatchcocked chicken looks more cool. Plus, it’s fun to say. C’mon, you want to say it right now, don’t ya?
How to Spatchcock a Chicken
Remove any neck parts and gizzards. Freeze for other uses (such as homemade chicken stock or chicken soup) or discard. Rinse the whole chicken, inside and out. Pat dry with paper towels. Place the chicken, breast-side down, on a steady cutting board. You’ll need a pair of kitchen shears or a sharp knife. If using a knife, be sure it’s sharp! A dull knife will fight you and there’s a good chance you’ll get cut. Myself, I prefer the kitchen shears, as I’m not really a knife master.
Begin by cutting along the right of the backbone from the neck to the tail.
Next, cut along the left side of the backbone, just as you did on the right side.
There you have it…removed backbone. Freeze this for future chicken stock or discard
Step 5 (Optional)
Flip the bird over and force it open like a book. Traditionally, this breastbone is removed by cutting down both sides of it with a sharp paring knife. It helps the chicken flatten even more. Most of the time I skip this and move onto step 6. It’s up to you. At least try it once to see if it’s something you prefer.
Another option at this point is to completely remove the entire breastbone with a knife or scissors the same way you did with the backbone. What this will do is give you two chicken halves, or a “split spatch”. This is sometimes convenient if your grill’s surface area is small or you don’t have a pot or pan large enough to hold a full spatchcocked chicken. I’ll oftentimes do a split spatch if I intend to serve the whole half. Plop it on a plate and call it a day…no carving. My guests can hack at it, plus it looks impressive.
Flip the bird over and push on the center of the breast. You should hear a slight crack. This is breaking the breast bone and allowing the chicken to lay flat. Apply pressure on each of the thigh bones until they disjoint, allowing them to also flatten out.
At this point, do some housekeeping. Trim away any unsightly skin or excess fat. Wipe out the cavity with paper towels. The wing-tips usually burn and become unsightly, so at this point, I usually snip them off or wrap them in aluminum foil. The same holds true with the tips of the drumsticks. Consider wrapping them in foil as well. Remove the foil from the wings and drumsticks during the last half hour of cooking.
Keep in mind, we dislocated the thighs. This will cause the leg quarters to flop around quite a bit and even flip over. Take care to keep your chicken in order as you handle it.
Your spatchcocked chicken is now ready to be seasoned and cooked. Be sure to properly clean your cutting board after this process in order to avoid cross-contamination that could lead to foodborne illnesses.
Now that you know how to spatchcock a chicken, let’s cook one up! Check out this article for more info: How to Cook and Carve a Spatchcock Chicken.
Isn’t that a pretty looking bird?
This Chicken L’Orange is one of my favorite recipes for a spatchcocked chicken. If you’d like to try it, the recipe can be found here. Enjoy!