Take these broken wings and learn to fry.
The chicken spoke quietly, but distinctly.
“Spatchcock,” it said a little louder, a calm voice emanating from the chiller section of Lidl. I stopped in front of it and considered things for a moment. I’d wanted to make some sort of bulgar wheat chickpea salad thing but this lump of meat sitting behind the glass doors had other ideas.
“Spatchcock,” it said, this time with a slight annoyance. I rolled my eyes, swept open the chiller door and removed it from its shelf. Fine, I thought, you have it your way. I put it in my basket.
The chicken beamed.
“Spatchcock,” it said, contentedly.
If you don’t know what spatchcocking is, it’s a method of opening up a slutty little chicken so that it cooks quickly and evenly. Splaying a whole chicken across a baking tray is really quite satisfying, if you’re not afraid of manhandling raw meat and rubbing marinade into what feels like cold, wet armpits.
I have no idea whether I spatchcock my chickens correctly, but it seems to work, so here’s what I do. I flip the poor thing onto its back, so the breasts are counter-side down. I then take a pair of (probably) clean kitchen scissors and remove the backbone, which should be facing up if you’ve chosen an anatomically correct chicken. I do this one side at a time, so you’re making two long, large cuts along each side of the spine. Cut it off at the end, near where the wishbone is. You end up with about an inch wide bit of backbone missing – I tend to roast this alongside the chicken, freeze it and add it to stock.
Next, you want to flip the chicken back to being breast side up. You’ll notice it’ll have lost some of its structural integrity, but so would you if someone cut your backbone out. Ask Michael Gove how that feels. Sarah Vine has his backbone on display above their mantelpiece; Dominic Cummings has Boris Johnson’s on his.
What you then do is you open out the chicken like a promiscuous book, legs splayed out in front of everything. If you’re being met with some resistance, take the heel of your hand and push down on the thickest part of the breast. This is pure unadulterated masochism and may not be suitable for those with a weak disposition or a tendency towards cold-blooded murder. Crunch, crunch, motherclucker.
Once your chicken is splayed to a relatively even thickness, you can marinade it. In all honesty, you can do what you like with it at this point, flavour wise – just make sure you let it sit for at least half an hour before cooking, and use plenty of salt everywhere.
What I like to do is get a jar of decent curry paste (note, lovelies, NOT curry sauce) and slather it all over the chicken from all angles, with a couple of wee slashes into the breasts as well so all those flavours get right in there. I’ve also done spatchy spatchy chicken for a big crowd of people (two chickens at once, on the same tray) as it takes up less oven space so you have more room for roasties. I’ve done this with rosemary, lemon zest and thyme as well as curry pastes but you use whatever you have to hand. The most recent time I spatchcocked a chicken was last Friday, where I covered it in olive oil and ras-el-hanout. Anything goes, except perhaps royal icing, which would burn and be weird.
You can forget about your chicken for a couple of hours once it’s marinaded (highly recommended) but when you’re ready to cook it after however long, stick the oven to about 190 and put it in for around 40-45 minutes, possibly less if your oven runs hot.
When the juices from the thickest part of the breast and thighs are running clear, it’s done. But do take the time to rest it slightly so it can reabsorb some more of the cooking liquid, which is usually beautifully reduced to a gravy thick enough to pour without needing to do anything extra to it.
Serve it with potatoes, but more importantly, pride, for you have just created something very impressive and very beautiful.
And wash that pair of scissors very carefully.