Roast chicken is one of the most dead-simple dinners you can prepare — salt and pepper a chicken, stick it in the oven, take it out an hour later. Ta-da! If you want to get fancy, you can stick stuff like lemon, or garlic, or herbs inside the chicken, or rub it down with spices. Even at its most basic, though, roast chicken is cheap, easy and awesome.
BUT! A whole chicken is a lumpy, uneven thing, and sometimes the breast comes out too dry or the thighs are undercooked, or both. Which is why you should spatchcock your chicken! Yes, that sounds dirty. Get your giggles out now, and then read on to find out how to roast a chicken evenly, in less time, with just a few simple cuts of the knife.
To spatchcock a chicken is to butterfly it, cutting out the backbone and flattening it so that it cooks evenly. But it’s more fun to say “spatchcock,” a word that comes from Olde Timey English and no one really knows what it means. Martha Stewart says it comes from “dispatch the cock,” but other sources cite a similar recipe (spitchcock) that has something to do with fried eels. Whatever. All I know is that it’s fun to say. Spatchcock! Say it out loud right now. Wasn’t that fun? Seriously, you’ll be saying it to people at work all next week.
Rinse off and air- or towel-dry your chicken. Get yourself a sturdy, sharp knife. Seriously, make sure it’s sharp. When you’re cutting through bone and sinew, and using force behind it, you don’t want a dull knife that might slip and go all out of control and stabby. Sharpen your knives for safety.
With your chicken breast-side down on the cutting board, slice down and through both sides of the backbone. At some point, you may need to put one hand on the back of the blade and use some elbow grease to get through the bones. Again — the sharper your knife is, the easier this will be. But it’s not complicated. You’re just excising the dead chicken’s spine. (Eww!) (Heh.)
That’s Patrick’s hand, by the way, and it looks really dirty. He washed his hands, I saw him do it, but for some reason the picture makes it look like he was working on a car or cleaning a chimney, and then started handling chicken. But I assure you, this is a mere trick of the camera. Honest.
When you’ve cut out the spine with your clean hands, it’ll look something like this! Remove the backbone and throw it away, or give it to your dog (Raw only! Cooked bones are bad for dogs!) or put it in the freezer to use later to make chicken stock. Whatever you choose to do with it, we are done with that backbone. Done, I say!
Now flip the bird over, press your hands on the chicken’s sternum (that would be the bone between the breasts, for those of you who didn’t pay attention in anatomy class), and give it a good shove. You want to break the breastbone and flatten the chicken out a bit more.You’ll hear — and feel — it snap. This step is either really disturbing or super-satisfying, depending on your personality.
Congratulations! You’ve spatchcocked your chicken! Now season it however you desire. Rubbing it down with olive oil then adding salt and pepper is nice. Sometimes Patrick uses curry powder, which is sort of messy to rub into the bird but tastes divine when it’s done. Mix spices together for a more complex rub (you can even go crazy and do a 16-spice rub, if you’re so inclined), or brine it. Whatever you like to do with chicken. Usually, I just use olive oil, salt and pepper, on account of I’m lazy.
Place your chicken in a 375F oven. You can roast it on a sheet pan lined with foil or parchment paper, or (as seen here) on a rack set inside a sheet pan. I do that because, if the chicken is especially fatty, the bottom of the bird is essentially boiling in hot fat. But honestly, that’s not such a bad thing. If you don’t have a rack, or just don’t feel like washing it later, don’t use one.
Roast for 45-60 minutes, depending on the size of the bird and your brownness preference. Because it roasts more evenly than when you cook it whole, you’ll find that the breast meat is amazingly moist, without overcooking the legs. Trust me, you’ll be happy you spatchcocked.
“Hello! I’m Spatchcock J. Chicken! Look at moist and brown and tasty I am! Please eat me now!”
Cut your chicken into pieces, and enjoy. Also, eat your vegetables. You need to eat vegetables.
NOTE: Ever since I learned this technique, I’ve also use it to cook turkey. Over the years, I tried a number of turkey techniques — brining, high heat, barbecuing — but nothing beats a spatchcocked turkey. Like with the chicken, the process evens the cooking throughout the bird, making for exquisitely moist breast meat. And as a bonus, it’s done in about as little as 45 minutes. None of this all-day cooking, dust-dry white meat turkey that we all remember from childhood.
Here’s Mark Bittman, author of the indispensible How to Cook Everything, showing you how to spatchcock a turkey: