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RBR Tailgating: Spatchcocked Chicken

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Simple and moist grilled chicken with a name that’s mildly funny if you haven’t emotionally left grade school. (Apparently I haven’t).

This is a great way to quickly cook a whole chicken with the added bonus of getting to say “spatchcock,” one of those wonderful words that sounds pretty dirty without being so at all. The results are quite salubrious, something that I think you’ll take great pleasure in masticating before letting it glide past the uvula.

I’m guessing this preparation has been around since a day or so after our ancestors started putting food on fire. It’s basically butterflying applied to birds. But its giggly new name didn’t come into common use until, per the crack team of RBR Tailgating investigators who remember reading somewhere but can’t recall where, the early 18th Century when it began popping up in cookbooks in Ireland. It spread quickly to the rest of the British Isles.

They also read somewhere that is not The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food that The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food believes that the word “spatchcock” is an abbreviation of “dispatch the cock” which would have made it perfect for a pre-South Carolina game meal but, since according to the archaic machinations of the SEC scheduling unless South Carolina turns things around and meets us in the SECCG in the next few years we aren’t going to see hide nor hair of a Gamecock until 2019, I decided to serve it forth for Kent State rather than be a cunctator.

I’m a fan of cupcake games. Not for the contest per se, but for the benefits both sides get out of playing. For the home team they offer an opportunity to work on fundamentals, give the mildly injured a rest, and provide the twos and threes a chance to show what they can do in an actual game setting. For so many of the sacrificial teams, the payoffs can be all that keep, not just the football team, but the whole athletic department in the black.

As money games go though, this one stands out. Tomorrow we will be witnessing the second installation of possibly the largest alumni gift Kent State has ever received (thoroughly researched.) Nick Saban may not have the largesse of Phil Knight or T. Boone Pickens, but you have to think the higher ups in Kent are willing to settle with the boon he has invited them to take. The first time Kent State came to Alabama to face their former grad assistant earned the Golden Flashes $1.2 million. This game is reported to come with a $1.4 or $1.5 million payout. Not bad for everyone involved, assuming the Kent State players aren’t too rectopathic. I’m hoping they see this game as an opportunity to play the best and take the resulting loss in stride.

But back to spatchcocking chickens. I’m pretty sure this will be a tailgate hit. It cooks the bird evenly and quickly enough that the breasts are practically guaranteed not to dry out. You have to check the internal temperature with a thermometer every now and again near the end, but other than that, once it gets going this is a put-on-grill-and-wander-off-to-drink-beer recipe. There’s not much involvement involved.

Spatchcocked Chicken

1 2-3 lb. Whole Chicken, Organs Removed

Salt

Pepper

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1-2 Bricks

Aluminum Foil

Rinse the outside of your bird and pat dry. With a good set of kitchen shears cut to the left or right of the spine for the length of the chicken. Do the same on the other side of the spine, removing it completely. Next, clip off the ends of the wings at the last joint for no reason that I can ascertain other than that is how it has always been done. Who am I to argue?

Push the bird open until it looks like the nasty little impregnator that attached to John Hurt’s face in the first Alien movie. There at the base of the carcass is a sliver of either bone or cartilage depending on the age of the chicken.

This isn’t entirely necessary but removing that sliver with a boning knife will make it easier to lay the carcass flat. Sometimes this little thing can be a real pain to get out. If that’s the case I usually just break it to achieve the same results.

Rub the whole thing with a little extra virgin olive oil and season generously inside and out. I’m keeping it simple and leaving at that as far as flavorings go. This post is more about a really easy and handy way to cook chicken than any magical flavor combination. If you like to stick herbs or lemon wedges under the skin, now’s the time to do so. Like cayenne or garlic or both? Add them now.

Place the bird skin side down on a hot grill. It isn’t going to be turned over as we’ll be using the grill more like an oven than the open flame it is, so be ready with enough fuel (charcoal, propane, whatever your preference) to maintain as near to 400˚ as possible for the duration of the cooking process. That’ll be anytime from fifteen to twenty minutes for a small bird and as long as thirty minutes for a large one.

You’ll need a brick or two; one for a small chicken, two for a bigger one. Wash them in running water. This is to make sure there are no lurking ants or spiders or whatever decided to take up residence in the pile of bricks you keep behind the shed for some reason. At least I keep a pile back there. No idea why. Wrap it or them in three layers of aluminum foil and let warm on the grill before you start cooking the chicken. When the chicken goes on, place it or them on top of the bird to keep as much of the skin as possible pressed to the grill and keep it from curling together as it cooks.

If you are at home and don’t have a grill you can still spatchcock to your heart’s delight. Do everything as instructed but brown it skin side down in an ovenproof pan large enough to hold the whole flattened chicken, preferably but not necessarily with grill ridges because grill marks look cool, and then put the pan and chicken with bricks on top into an oven preheated to 400˚.

Near the end of your expected cooking time, start poking it every so often with a meat thermometer. Done, for chicken, registers at 165˚ in the fattest part, usually the breast, of the flesh.

I kept this really simple and served it with some grilled rounds of pineapple over a bed of spinach lightly dressed with champagne vinaigrette.

I’m expecting some grumbling about grilling before an 11 am kickoff or worries about how reliably a cooler full of ice would keep an uncooked chicken for a post game tailgate. I have no issues getting in early and having a full lunch at ten in the morning, but I know that I’m not everybody (I bet I would have a lot more shoes if I were) and that you others might not want something so heavy at that still breakfasty hour.

If that’s the case, make the chicken at home the night before and give it a try. I really think you will love how moist it turns out. Just set the breasts aside, cut them into little cubes and toss with a small dice each of yellow onion, carrots, celery, and black olives. Proportions are up to you, but I like to make sure that there is enough carrot and celery in the mix to provide a satisfying crunch. Toss with some extra virgin olive oil and salt to taste. Now you have a mayonnaiseless chicken salad.

I’m not leaving out mayo because I hate it or anything like that. I do hate it. Make no mistake about that. Mayo is the inversion of all things good and proper. In this case I’m leaving mayonnaise out because there without it, the chicken salad travels better. One less thing to go rancid in the Tuscaloosa sunshine.

I like mine topped with a few sprigs of peppery arugula on a buttery croissant. Add some fruit and you have brunch.

I hope you enjoy it, no injuries, RTDBL, and Roll Tide.

I’d be interested if any of you had any other words that sound dirty but really aren’t. Things like that make me giggle like a four year old on endless an endless loop of “Guess what?... Chicken butt.” I’d love to see some bad sounding words in the comments. Give me your worst, but don’t expect to even approach the all time category champion that is “manumission.” (/drops mic)