How to spatchcock a chicken.
in just a minute…
Paul doesn’t hang about, and I’ve been wanting to catch him doing this for so long but he’s too fast ! So excuse the quality, and focus on the method.
Why butterflied chicken is so good.
Spatchcocking is essentially butterflying the chicken, like you might do with a fish for grilling. Fish espalda or ‘on the back’ they call it here.
It means it sits nice and flat and allows the brown meat and the white meat to all cook perfectly evenly in the same cooking time. You can roast or grill it. Takes about half the time it would normally take to roast it whole. No need for brining as it won’t dry out if cooked this way. All the skin is also exposed to the same heat so you get a nice crispy skin after roasting or grilling too. If you’re putting a marinade on the skin, it’s nice and even everywhere.
It feels crazy that everyone doesn’t do it this way. We’ve been doing it for years but why isn’t it the normal method right from the beginning? I think people are a bit scared of it, of all that cutting. Scared they’ll get it wrong and make a mess. Scared it looks too tough to cut through. Or maybe it’s a bit gory ! I realised that when I decided to share this with our email subscribers on a private link to the youtube channel, rather than splash it on Instagram, facebook etc.
1. Turn it upside down
2. Cut through the backbone and discard it ( or you could add it to a bone collection for stock making )
3. Slice down each side of the breast bone and press down and crack the breast bone. (He says this method is easier than turning it over and pressing down on the bone).
4. Pull away and discard any extra cartilage around the breast bone.
We don’t ever have our roast chicken any other way now because it cooks deliciously in about 35-40mins too (fan oven at 180℃).
I think we’re quite unusual not possessing food grade kitchen shears ourselves right now. We used to have a great pair ( very very reasonably priced !) of Victorinox Shears that I would often use to cut up meat into small pieces before or after cooking, or to snip herbs straight into a pan… the most spatchcocking Paul ever did before was on Quails. Those were the days of nouveau cuisine ! The scissors didn’t make it into the two suitcases of essentials in our new simple life and we haven’t bought new ones as we don’t really need them… yet ! I think we would buy shears now as they are stronger and can do so much more. When we were in Asia, we would see friends and neighbours using them really regularly for cutting seafood shells off. (prawns, langoustines etc) and there’s so much fresh seafood here that shears may be better. Victorinox also have nice, hot forged professional shears, and a pair with a nice buffer spring so it’s easier on the hand muscles. Oxo good grips or KitchenAid are other good make for general kitchen scissors.
If you’re going to get food shears, here’s a few pointers and good makes.
1. Make sure they suit you as a left handed or right-handed pair – or buy one that suits both.
2. More professional shears are made all in one – i.e. the handles and shears are all made of the one material so they are less likely to break or bend.
3. Blades that can be separated for cleaning are more hygienic.
4. One or both edges should be a little serrated like a bread-knife.
5. Hand-washing as opposed to dishwasher helps keep them sharp and can stop them rusting.
You’ll have seen people do this with kitchen shears which are usually what are recommended. They do work well, but not everyone has those. I also find the sharp snip a bit scary if I’m honest. Don’t ever buy a cheap pair… I’ve seen many just snap. I know they can be good for chicken but you need a really strong pair if you want to take a Turkey backbone out ! If I was buying them I could get Joyce Chen or Oxo ones that are sharp, have a good spring, and don’t hurt your hand muscles to grip. I wouldn’t get a cheap pair as I’ve seen too many snap.
Paul has decided a serrated knife is best, and he doesn’t hang about. (The neck and giblets were already removed when we bought this chook. ) You’ll see him do it in about a minute in the video below.
We didn’t realise we had such a great knife in our wee rented kitchen in the Canaries. We have everything still left in the house from the 1970s so our stainless steel breadknife from Solingen must have been here for at least 30 years ! And it’s still amazing.
Paul actually prefers this serrated saw knife – a bread knife really. Wusthof is a top quality make, and probably the best German knife-maker – from Solingen). It’s sharp and get’s through the cartilage easily, is much easier to wash, and less scary to use ! And of course, it’s a really useful knife otherwise (cutting Paul’s nice new crusty sourdough bread for one).
Henckels is another good brand from the same specialist knife making area in Germany.
caught on video at last
I love these strong boards too. I can’t even remember how long we’ve had them. They’re so useful that stayed when we got rid of most stuff. One by one I’ll bring them out from the UK in s suitcase. The red one is most important to me as I like to know where raw meat juices have been.
Using the right coloured board for the right food is a pet nag of mine, for hygiene’s sake!
3 of our favourite roast chicken recipes
1. simply and juicy
As in the picture on this post, add onto the skin lemon zest & juice, minced garlic, and optionally… oregano. Oregano & lemon is our go to for chicken. Second favourite is thyme, 3rd is rosemary. If you aren’t preparing a marinade over night you need to use a lighter herb in my opinion so that the flavour can more easily infuse into the skin. With rosemary, I’d grind it up with my bamix hand blender attachment with salt and garlic first so that I can ‘mush’ it into the skin rather than have full rosemary spikes going nowhere.
2. red and spicy
Just smear a little spicy red curry paste of some sort ( Sambal, Chimichurri, Harissa, Sriracha, piri piri). We love Sambal oelek, an Indonesian chili sauce that has a little light salt and vinegar taste too. We get the bottle with added garlic if we can. By the way, all these spice sauce names like Sambal usually just mean spicy sauce in their own language. Same for harissa and Chermoula in Morocco – it just means a spice mix ! The Sambal, Sriracha and Harissa have chili in it The Chermoula doesn’t. Sriracha is sometimes more sweet than vinegary, and usually has a garlic flavour too. It’s quite smooth, and we don’t want any sugar added, so we prefer the sambal. We first found it in Amsterdam and where the Indonesian connection is strong. The ‘oelek’ means mortar and pestle so it’s a sauce with bits in it !
Know your spice though. Each jar or make can change ! Go easy on it, and there’s no need for extra oil, it’s already in the paste. To get it nice and evenly spread, you can put the chicken into a clear freezer type plastic bag and rub the paste by massaging the chicken from outside the bag. That way you avoid getting the spice under your nails too.
Jamie making his programme “Jamie does Marrakesh” at our place in 2011
On the rooftop of maison mk, the boutique hotel we built from scratch, ( nb: we sold it in 2020 ).
We gave him chicken tagine, and he gave us empire chicken – fair swap I’d say.
3. Jamie Oliver’s great empire chicken recipe… yum !
1 teaspoon of cumin, ground coriander, turmeric, garam masala, salt flakes.
2 tablespoons natural yoghurt, with zest and juice of 1 lemon squeezed in.
Mix it all up and massage into the chicken.
Check out Jamie’s full recipe here, because it is quite fiddly, but do read both the ingredients and method first. Makes a great gravy too. I seem to remember there’s an ingredient missing that you’ll find in the method… in fact always do that as chef’s can often miss something out by mistake ! Instead of the usual roast potatoes, have a go at the bombay potatoes recipe to go with this – it’s absolutely super !
Our Moroccan cook used to make a lovely roast chicken when we had a staff lunch together. We loved it , but it wasn’t a ‘recipe’ as such. When I asked she called it chicken marhaba ( meaning welcome when you greet a guest ) . I did re-create this years ago and this post has reminded me I haven’t done it in a long time. So, I’ll dig into my memory and try it for you. Watch this space… It was a little like Jamie Oliver’s recipe above, but more Arabic in style. If you fancy experimenting for me, let me know. I think what I would do is use the recipe above but replace the garam masala with cinnamon, or with my pumpkin spice ( probably only 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon instead of a whole teaspoon to see how it smells and tastes.) I’d also use butter ( or even honey) instead of yoghurt. You could take a shortcut and just use ‘ras el hanout’ for your dried spice mix.
How do you like your roast chicken ?
There are other combinations I’d like to try but we keep resorting to our favourites at the moment.
Honey, ginger & garlic… spiced orange marmalade… lemony mustard, rosemary, tarragon, cranberry and sage are all ingredients I’d like to try on a roast chicken.
How do you like to have yours? We’d love to know. If you aren’t already an email subscriber, join up here and let us know on email. Otherwise, leave a comment below. Thanks so much.