Sometimes what I want to eat and what I feel like cooking are disparate feelings.
I want to eat doughnuts. I do not feel like standing over frying oil right now. I want to eat roasted chicken and have the convenience of cooked chicken in my fridge to turn into pizza toppings, sandwiches and all kinds of snacks. I do not feel like turning on my oven, not in this heat! In fact, could we just remove the oven from my house and put it in my backyard? Now there’s a place I could cook. It’s already 90 degrees and I don’t have to worry if something gets spilled (which it always does.) Which leads me to grilling.
Hey, here’s an idea. Grill a whole chicken. Could this be done? Won’t the breast end up dry and the thighs be pink? I can’t control a grill… especially not a charcoal grill. Agggh but chicken itself is so delectable on the grill. Maybe I could spatchcock it. If you don’t know what spatchcocking is, I ask you, where were last Thanksgiving? Because everyone and their Grandma was doing it. It’s also called butterflying, if you are too shy to say spatchcock. But I’m not. So what is it? Basically you are removing the backbone from the chicken. It will help the chicken to cook more evenly and faster because it makes the chicken lie in one flat layer. Now the other issue. The breast. How do we make sure it is tender and the dark meat cooked all the way through? I’m borrowing another T-Day secret… brining.
Brining adds flavor and moisture, as the salt reacts with the muscle proteins to actually dissolve the muscle filaments. So when brining is involved it is usually to keep the entire piece of meat moist, especially when dealing with whole birds that have both light and dark meat parts. The only thing to watch out for is the gravy. Many times a roasted bird that has been brined will result in gravy that is too salty. We’ve made gravy with brined, home rotisserie chickens before, but I usually do not need to add even the tiniest amount of salt. And of course, it depends on how much salt you add to the brine. (See this really interesting article on the science of brining: http://stellaculinary.com/blog/science-behind-brining.)
This bird went on the grill, so there’s no gravy to worry about, since it’s summer and I’m not about to turn that oven on (you don’t see it in my backyard, do you?)
Here’s how I made this chicken dinner:
Brine and prep the chicken. You only need to leave it in the brine for 2-3 hours, first removing the backbone and flattening the breastbone allows this chicken to cook evenly and a little faster then if it were still in a round shape. This is also called (giggle) spatchcocking. My Thanksgiving will never be the same.
For the brine:
Mix together salt, water and sugar, then crush some rosemary, garlic cloves and peppercorns. I crushed mine in a plastic bag (beating it with a rolling pin. Frustrations=gone.)
To butterfly the chicken:
Take it out of the wrapper, set it on a secured cutting board (with a wet towel or piece of grippy shelf liner so your board doesn’t slip around) and be sure to remove the packet of gizzards and neckbone that come with it. This packet of joyfulness should be inside the cavity of the bird. Save it! It’s great for making chicken stock. Store in your freezer, along with other leftover chicken bones, for fall. Fall is the best time to make stock/bone broth.
Place the chicken breast side down on the board, and the tail of the chicken pointed towards you.
Feel with your hands where the backbone is… straight down the center of the bird. (See how the wings are furthest away from me? And the breast is on the board? That’s what we want!) You are going to cut up each side of the backbone, leaving it in tact. You are not going to try to cut through the backbone. Make sense? Here’s a little diagram:
Set your backbone aside (add it to the bag for stock) and open up the chicken and lay it open side down, flattening it out as much as you can. Place your hand on the largest part of the breasts, in the center, and push down to break the breast bone. This will flatten the chicken even more and help the cooking time and even-ness:
This is as flat as it’s gonna get!
Put the chicken in the brine, making sure it’s completely covered. If the chicken wants to float, weigh it down with a small plate. Cover the brine and put in the fridge for 2-3 hours.
When the chicken is almost done in the brine, start to prep the grill. I’m really not (yet) a skilled charcoal grill master. This was the first time I grilled without Joel home, and I’m impressed that nothing caught fire and I didn’t burn myself. Before this I’ve grilled a total of 4 times, under very high supervision. But I just really wanted to make this chicken, so as they say, I just figured it out. And texted Joel. A lot. But one thing I did google before I started this. I read that by putting the hot coals one side of the grill, you will give yourself a hot area and cooler area. Then, when you place the chicken on the grill, face the legs/thighs toward the hotter area, leaving the breast to cook on the cooler area (trust me, it’s still plenty hot!). This is just one more step to ensuring moist and tender white meat and dark meat that is cooked all the way through.
The grill we use is just a little weber with a chimney starter and 100% natural hardwood briquettes. Before you light anything on fire, open the vents on the bottom and remove the grate. You’ll put the grate back after you heat the coals. Put paper in the bottom of the chimney starter (under the little grate inside of the starter), put any used coals that are still in your barbecue on top of that (these will help the new coals light) then top with new coals until its about flush with the top of the chimney. It will smoke a lot when you first light the paper, but then the smoke will die down and the coals will start going. When the coals on the top are looking white-ish, they are hot. Carefully pour them mostly onto one side, into the grill belly (I totally just made up that term. No idea if it’s real or not.)
While the grill is heating, remove the chicken from the brine and rinse it. Pat it dry with paper towels and put it in a dish or on a baking sheet. Allow it to sit out for 15 min or so and make sure the skin is really dry. Season the chicken and brush with oil. I added the zest of a lemon, mostly on a whim. It was a good whim.
Place the chicken on the grill, skin side down, legs facing the hot coals. Grill for 20 minutes, then flip, and grill another 20 minutes, covered with the lid vents open halfway. Flipping is easier if you have two pairs of tongs, but the chicken meat stays together pretty well.
You may need one final sear on the first side (the skin side) right before serving. This will be maybe 5-7 more minutes if you place it right over the hottest part.
Remove the chicken to a platter, garnish with sprigs of rosemary, lemon slices and serve with pickled cherries.
This chicken served two adults the day it was made, then went on to become chicken salad sandwiches, and then just a giant salad with sliced chicken, tomatoes, and corn on romaine.Having cooked chicken around is always a great excuse to make a sandwich or a salad – especially in the summer when it’s too hot to cook.
The pickled cherries were sooo good with this. Alternate between bites of chicken and cherry… it’s really a great way to savor the summer.
- For the brine:
- 1/2 cup salt (iodized sea salt)
- 1/2 cup organic sugar
- 2-3 garlic cloves
- 6-8 peppercorns
- 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 1 gallon cold water
- 1-4(ish) pound chicken, organic if possible, lightly rinsed and giblets/neck bones removed from the inside of the cavity.
- Pepper, fresh ground
- Zest of one organic lemon
- Grill and Charcoal briquettes, paper, lighter
- Pickled Cherries, for serving, optional
- Fresh rosemary
- Lemon wedges
- Make the brine by mixing the water, salt, and sugar in a large pot. A stainless steel soup pot is what I commonly use. Place the garlic, rosemary and pepper corns in a zip lock bag and crush with a rolling pin (with a few good wacks!) then add it to the water mixture. Set aside while you handle the chicken.
- Remove the backbone from the bird by setting the breast side down of the chicken on a cutting board (a cutting board that has either a damp/wet towel under it to secure it from slipping, or a grippy piece of shelf liner). Make sure the breasts are away from you and the opening of the chicken is closest to you. Cut off the excess skin that is around the tail of the chicken. With kitchen shears, begin cutting along one side of the backbone all the way up towards the “shoulder blades” (the area in between each wing). Now you have cut the chicken open. You want to cut the same way up the other side of the backbone to fully remove it. Save the backbone for chicken stock (put it in a plastic bag in your freezer).
- Turn the bird over and flatten it out as best as you can. You need to break the breastbone now, and it’s easier then you think. Place the palm of your hand on the upper middle area of the breast and give it a firm downward push. It usually takes me one or two good shoves against the cutting board, and then the bird looks pretty flattened.
- Put it in the brine. If it wants to float, like mine did, place a small, heavy plate on the top of it to weigh it down. It needs to be totally submerged in the brine. Cover the pot and refrigerate for about 2-3 hours, but no more then 4.
- When the bird is almost done brining, you can pre-heat and prep your grill. Remove the grill grate, set aside. Open any bottom vents, open the lid vent halfway. Put paper in the bottom of the chimney starter; put any used coals that are still in your barbeque on top of that (these will help the new coals light-yes I’m talking about reaching in the cold grill with your bare hands and getting them dirty. Grilling with charcoal is a dirty business.) Top the old coals with new coals until it is about flush with the top of the chimney. Light the paper in the bottom. It will smoke a lot when you first light the paper, but then the smoke will die down and the coals will start going. This will heat up while you finish prepping the chicken.
- Remove the chicken from the brine and discard the brine down the kitchen sink. Lightly rinse it and pat dry with paper towels. Place the chicken on a tray or platter, skin side up and make sure that the skin is as dry as possible. Season with ground pepper and the lemon zest, then brush olive oil all over the skin.
- The bird is prepped, go check on your coals.
- When the coals on the top are looking white-ish, they are hot. Carefully pour them mostly onto one side (not in the center) of the grill belly.
- Place the grill grate back on the grill. Place the chicken on the grill, skin side down, with legs pointing into the hot side, where the coals are, and breast pointed away to the cooler side (where there are no coals.) Cover with the lid and cook 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes, flip, making sure the legs are still facing the hot side, and cook 20 more minutes, covered. You may need one final sear on the first side (the skin side) right before serving. This will be maybe 5-7 more minutes if you place it right over the hottest part.
- Remove to a platter and let rest for 10 minutes. Make sure it is cooked, but poking the tip of a knife in the dark meat. If the juices run clear, and the meat is opaque, it’s cooked. You can also insert an instant read thermometer into the thickest part of the breast or thigh, being careful not to touch the bone. It’s done at 160 degrees F. Garnish with fresh rosemary sprigs, lemon wedges and pickled cherries and cut in to pieces to serve.