Spatchcock my chicken, please

A new technique and a new vocabulary

July 17, 2007

“Spatchcock” is the kind of word that garners immediate attention, not to mention a raised eyebrow and a smirk. When I asked the butcher if he wouldn’t mind spatchcocking a couple chickens for me, his “Pardon me?” sounded more like “Most definitely not!”

Once we agreed on the term “butterflying,” those chickens flew my way faster than, well, chickens can fly.

Spatchcocking a chicken.

We had grown comfortable with the word in the office, bandying it about as we discussed its origin, all prompted by Matthew Card’s story, “Too hot to cook.”

Spatchcock, it turns out, is an old word (18th century), but not as old as a related word, “spitchcock” (15th century), which means “to split and grill eels.”

(In case you haven’t read Matt’s story, to spatchcock a chicken is simply to remove its backbone to prepare it for grilling flat.)

As for those chickens, I followed Matt’s instructions to a T, though I confess at times I wondered if the effort was worth the trouble. As I moved the chickens from one bowl to the next, trying to find a container big enough to fit two chickens and three quarts of brine but small enough to fit in my fridge, worrying all the while how many surfaces I’d potentially contaminated with raw chicken, I contemplated skipping the brine entirely the next time around.

I’m glad I didn’t. When all was said and done — spatchcocked, brined, grilled — I supped on the best grilled chicken I’ve ever cooked. It was moist, smoky, and flavorful. In addition, I then had what Matthew had promised: enough leftover chicken for several meals.

Not to mention a new word in my vocabulary.

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