Spatchcocking is the sure-fire way to grill a whole chicken to perfection. It creates the ultimate poultry combo – light and dark meat that are equally tender and juicy, with super-crispy skin.
Also known as butterflying, the technique involves removing the chicken’s backbone with a pair of kitchen shears, and then flattening it before sliding it onto a hot grill. Not only is the presentation spectacular, but spatchcocking allows the chicken to cook considerably faster and with more even results.
Some cooks flatten the bird under the weight of a couple of foil-wrapped bricks, but it’s not necessary (though it will cut down on grilling time). For added stability, run a metal or wooden skewer horizontally through the chicken from thigh to thigh, and be sure to use an extra-big spatula when removing it from the grill grates. And don’t forget to tuck the wing tips behind the back to stop them from getting too crisp before the rest of the bird.
I chose a small roaster chicken to make six servings, but you also could use a fryer or broiler chicken or several Cornish game hens. The original recipe calls for pairing broccolini with fresh figs, but I substituted pitted dates for a tasty and colorful side. If you don’t care for the florets, no worries – any grilled vegetable would work.
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Spatchcocked Chicken With Fig Glaze
Adapted from “Grill Smoke BBQ” by Ben Tish (Quadrille, April 2017).
1 cup coarse sea salt
1/2 cup sugar
4 bay leaves
2 teaspoons each coriander and fennel seeds
Zest of 2 lemons
1 sliced red chile pepper
1 large (4 1/2-pound) chicken
3/4 cup fig jam
3 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
14 ounces broccolini
4 large black figs, cut in half (I used pitted dates)
Olive oil, for cooking
Sea salt and black pepper
Prepare brine by placing ingredients in a medium nonreactive saucepan with 4 1/2 cups water. Slowly bring to a boil, stirring as you go to dissolve the salt and sugar. Remove from heat and allow to cool before using.
Prepare the chicken: Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Put chicken on a stable cutting board, breast side down, and cut out the backbone using kitchen shears or a sharp chef’s knife: Make a cut along one side of the backbone, starting down near where the thighs meet the tail. Continue cutting, working your way around the thigh joint until you’ve snipped through every rib bone and completely split the chicken up to the neck. Turn the bird over and press on it HARD to flatten. (You should hear a couple of cracks.)
Pour brine in nonreactive container large enough to hold the chicken and pour in enough cold water to cover. Refrigerate at least 4 hours, or overnight.
Make glaze: Place fig jam, vinegar and 1/3 cup of water in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to boil on stovetop. Stir until jam has melted. Set aside.
Light grill and set for direct/indirect cooking. Lift chicken out of brine and pat dry with paper towels. Rub with a third of the glaze and season with salt and pepper. Place chicken, skin-side down, on grill in the direct heat zone and cook for 4 minutes, to start caramelizing the skin. Turn chicken over and transfer it indirect heat zone.
After 10 minutes, baste chicken with fig glaze and continue to cook another 30 to 40 minutes, glazing it twice more during the process. Cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part without touching bone registers 165 degrees, and the outside is glazed and caramelized. Remove from chicken and let rest for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, toss the broccolini with olive oil, salt and pepper and place in grill basket. Place basket over direct heat, along with the figs or dates. Cook about 15 minutes until fruit is soft and sticky and broccolini is nicely charred and al dente.
Serve chicken on a platter with the broccolini and roasted fruit.
Yield: 4 servings.