It's funny how some recipes come to be. This one started out as a means to finally use up a few heads of roasted garlic that had been meandering around the fridge for a while. Luckily they were sharing a shelf with my preserved lemons and had become friendly. A few sprigs of rosemary asked if they could join the party and before you know it they were all crying for some butter to crash the gathering (guess they felt they needed a social lubricant to kick things up a bit).
The whole mash-up reminded me a bit of the compound butter used to make Ana Sortun's Crispy Lemon Chicken with Z'atar, and from there is wasn't long before I was pulling out my poultry shears and spatchcocking a few organic birds. Et voila….these stars were born!
"Spatchcock" is the traditional English word for a juvenile chicken, what the French would call a "poussin". Spatchcocks or poussins were generally "butterflied" to allow for faster cooking, hence in modern english the term refers to both the bird and the manner of cooking. Butterflying, or spatchcocking the bird by removing it's backbone and pressing it flat allows the bird to be more evenly roasted or grilled, with white and dark meat regions of the bird finishing in roughly the same time….yay.
As you can see from my photos, as is my custom when I roast whole chickens, I cooked two at the same time with an eye to tasty leftovers later in the week. Slipping a little compound butter under the skin before roasting not only helps to keep the flesh moist, but also adds a HUGE amount of flavor. I was lucky enough to have some preserved lemon and roasted garlic already in the fridge, but if you don't you can make a simpler butter with fresh herbs and lemon zest.
Poultry shears make the job of removing the backbone child's play, but if you don't have a pair a nice heavy chef's knife will do the trick as well. My friends at Food52 posted a nice little lesson on how to spatchcock a bird, you can take a look-see here. Spatchcocking is a great way to cook a whole bird on your grill, but you may want to forgo the compound butter in that situation as the melting butter will cause lots of flare-ups over an open flame.
Ok…off you go to become a spatchcocker!
Cheers – Steve
for the compound butter:
- 3/4 stick butter at room temperature
- 2 sprigs rosemary, stemmed and finely minced
- 2 heads roasted garlic, pressed from the skins and mashed
- 1/2 preserved lemon, peel only, finely minced
for the chickens:
- 2 organic chickens chickens, 3.5 to 4 pounds each
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Make the compound butter by combining all the ingredients in a small bowl and stirring to incorporate.
- Rinse and dry each bird, then cut out the backbone. Liberally salt and pepper the exposed flesh in the cavity, then flip the bird onto a rimmed baking sheet and press between the breasts to flatten.
- Gently slip your hand between the skin and flesh across the breasts and legs of the bird to loosen, then use your fingertips to scoop some of the butter and distribute it evenly under the skin across the entire bird. Repeat the process with the second bird.
- Heat the oven to 425℉.
- Season the skin of each bird with salt and pepper and place them side by side on a rimmed baking sheet as shown in the photograph. Pop them in the oven and cook for 20 minutes, pull the pan from the oven and lower the temperature to 375℉. Tilt the pan slightly to accumulate the melted butter and juices, and using a large spoon baste the birds with the juice. Place the pan back in the oven and continue cooking for another 25 minutes or so, until an instant read thermometer places in the thickest part of the flesh registers 160-165℉.
- Pull from the oven and move the birds to a cutting board. Tent with foil for 10 minutes before carving and serving.