Good Summer Shabbos – Spatchcocked Grilled Chicken

“Good evening and good Shabbos!”

These are the words we hear on Friday nights when we attend services at our local synagogue. Wait. What?! Didn’t Lowcountry Foodie Mama JUST cook something with a bunch of bacon? And shrimp? And didn’t I see some cheese peeking out from that Sloppy Joe? Well, yes, yes you did see me do all those things. See, Mama goes to synagogue a couple of Fridays and Saturdays a month and is starting to think about The Boy’s Bar Mitzvah, this is all true. I once had a friend, after hearing about some super porky thing I’d made, say “Wait, aren’t you Jewish?” I explained that, yes, I am a member of the tribe, but I also like to eat. And I like to eat just about everything. So maybe, just maybe, sometimes I break one (or ten) of the laws of kashrut (the Jewish dietary laws – a/k/a keeping kosher). His retort? “So you are more like JewISH?

Chop herbs and garlic. Zest lemon. Mix together with spices, brown sugar (which I forgot until I was almost finished!) and olive oil.
Chop herbs and garlic. Zest lemon. Mix together with spices, brown sugar (which I forgot until I was almost finished!) and olive oil.

So when Friday night rolls around, as often as possible, The Boy and I celebrate Shabbat (the Sabbath) together. We light the candles, say blessings over the challah (traditional braided bread) and the wine and enjoy a nice quiet dinner together. Sometimes Chef J is able to join us but usually, it’s just the two of us. And on these nights, I really do try to follow some level of kashrut. The basics of keeping kosher are no pork, no shellfish, no mixing meat and dairy. Really, it’s not that hard. It goes beyond that but those are very most basic rules. There are specific rules about the slaughtering of animals for meat and that sometimes means that kosher meat isn’t readily available in all markets. So we tend to go more kosher-style in our house when it comes to meat on Shabbat. We usually make a simple fish or chicken dish with veggies and rice or roasted potatoes. Because I’ve worked all day, I don’t usually have time for doing a big brisket or a whole roasted chicken.

Place chicken on kitchen towel so it doesn't slide around. Cut down each side of back bone to remove. Turn chicken over and attempt CPR to break breast bone. I don't think she's going to make it.
Place chicken on kitchen towel so it doesn’t slide around. Cut down each side of back bone to remove. Turn chicken over and break breast bone (should look like CPR but sound like a Steven Seagal movie). I don’t think she’s going to make it.

But my boss gave me a Friday afternoon off recently so I decided to roast a chicken. Of course I can’t be troubled to just pop a chicken in the oven like a normal person. Nope, I channel my inner Julia Child and (say this loudly in her voice please) SPATCHCOCK the CHICKEN and PUT it on the GRILL (that was fun, wasn’t it?). I know “spatchcock” is a funny little word but it is the biggest timesaver when it comes to cooking a whole bird. Spatchcocking basically means butterflying the bird so that it cooks nice and evenly and all the skin gets crispy. And all in about half the time than if you were to cook it in its normal bird shape. I do almost all poultry this way (including the Thanksgiving turkey) and it saves so much time and tastes SO much better – did I mention ALL the skin gets crispy?

Rub back side of chicken with spice and herb mixture. Loosen skin and rub herb mix between skin and flesh. Rub outside of skin with herb mix. Let chicken sit in fridge for several hours.
Rub back side of chicken with spice and herb mixture. Loosen skin and rub herb mix between skin and flesh. Rub outside of skin with herb mix. Let chicken sit in fridge for several hours.

Spatchcocking a chicken is really not that hard. You simply take the chicken, empty it of all the goodies inside (pray for a bag when you reach in there and not loose organs as I found recently in one. . . *shudder*) and rinse it inside and out. Dry the bird, then grab your kitchen shears or a really sharp sturdy pair of scissors. Put the chicken, breast side down on a cutting board with a damp kitchen towel under it (this keeps the board from sliding around) and a dry or paper towel under the bird to keep it steady on the board. This really is a safety issue so just do it so you don’t cut yourself. Hold the “tail” of the chicken and cut along each side of the backbone to remove it. (I save the backbones to make chicken stock later.) Then turn the chicken breast side up and push down firmly on the breastbone right in the middle (like you are doing CPR on the chicken). This should break the breast bone (Chef J, of course, mentioned that it should sound like a Steven Seagal movie in your kitchen) and your chicken will be lying totally flat. You can put the chicken, breast and skin side up, in the oven or grill it like I did here.

Place chicken, breast side up on cooler side of grill. Weight with baking dish. Turn chicken, weigh down again.
Place chicken, breast side up on cooler side of grill. Weigh down with baking dish. Turn chicken, weigh down again.

Normally I brine a chicken, but for this recipe, I did more of a rub and let it hang out in the fridge for a few hours while I did other things. You could conceivably put this in the fridge before you leave for work in the morning and it will be ready to cook when you get home. Please note that any combination of fresh herbs will be fine. The rosemary fits particularly well here but I happened to have all of the herbs mentioned below in my little kitchen garden. Dry herbs won’t be the same so if you have to pick just one at the supermarket, I’d go with rosemary.

Remove chicken to cutting board and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes.
Remove chicken to cutting board and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes.
Spatchcocked Grilled Chicken
  • 1 3-4 lb whole chicken, spatchcocked
  • 1/3 C good olive oil
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 3 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
  • 1 T fresh rosemary leaves, minced small
  • 1 T fresh sage leaves, minced small
  • 1 t fresh thyme, minced small
  • 1 t fresh oregano, minced small
  • 1 T packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 t cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 t paprika
  • 2 t kosher salt
  • 2 t fresh ground black pepper
Combine lemon zest, garlic, herbs and spices with olive oil and mash and stir into a paste * (you can use a food processor or mortar and pestle if you want to get it really fine). Lay chicken breast side down in glass or ceramic baking dish just large enough to hold it. Rub about 1/3 of spice mixture on chicken. Flip over so that it is breast side up. Loosen skin slightly and rub about 1/3 of the mixture between skin and meat. Rub remaining 1/3 on top of skin. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate about 3-4 hours. You could let it go overnight but JUST overnight. Sometimes the salt and lemon can be a bit much for too long. 
Remove chicken from fridge to come to room temp while you prep the grill and the rest of your dinner. Preheat charcoal on one side of grill (with a gas grill, heat one side to high and one to low). When grill is ready scoot a FEW coals to cooler side of grill and then place chicken, skin side up, on cooler side of grill. Wipe out the dish in which you marinated the chicken and put it on top of the chicken to weigh it down. Trust me on this. It will still taste good if you don’t but it WILL come apart into pieces. Cook, with grill covered, for about 20 minutes on this side. Turn chicken skin side down, weighted again, and cook for about 20 minutes until the skin is golden brown and a meat thermometer reads 160. Check after the first ten minutes to be sure the skin isn’t scorching. Move around a little on the grill if needed. If your chicken is large, it may take more than 40 minutes of cooking. Remove chicken to a cutting board, cover with foil and allow to rest at least 5 minutes. 
Carve chicken as desired.
My presentation isn't as great as sometimes but I had hungry boys waiting to eat!
My presentation isn’t as great as sometimes but I had hungry boys waiting to eat!

* I’ve mentioned a couple of times to mash garlic into a paste. If you don’t know how to do this, it’s a really valuable skill. Works great for guacamole, rubs for meats, salad dressings, etc. Here’s what you do:

Peel your garlic, cut off and discard the little hard root end, and then give garlic a rough chop on your cutting board with a wide chef’s knife. Sprinkle with a little bit of coarse kosher salt. Run your knife through it again, this time, you’ll hear lots of crunching with the salt. Now take the SIDE of your knife and mash and rub it across the salt and garlic, dragging them across your cutting board. Carefully wipe the garlic off the knife onto the cutting board and repeat cutting through and then mashing with the side of the knife until it is a mushy paste.

garlic paste

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