It Only Sounds Like a Dirty Word

The week following Thanksgiving, I was having lunch with a friend at our favorite Chinese restaurant. As we poked our chopsticks into the sesame chicken, I asked her if she had a good Thanksgiving. She said her Thanksgiving had been nice, not the least because she had a total of two – count ‘em – two complete Thanksgiving dinners. The first dinner was good, she admitted, but the second, ahhhh, the second.

She spatchcocked the turkey, my friend told me with reverence.

It’s an understatement to say that I was impressed. I was certainly impressed that the woman had spatchcocked a turkey. But I was mostly impressed that I knew what the word spatchcocked meant.

I frankly don’t know exactly how I knew what it meant. Perhaps it’s having watched Food Network since its very beginning when Emeril Lagasse was getting applause from his studio audience every time he added more garlic or wine to whatever dish he was making (and perhaps spatchcocking). What I do know for certain is that I didn’t learn the term from my mother, who never spatchcocked a thing in her life. She may or may not have butterflied a chicken, but I believe she died without having ever heard the word spatchcock.

Not to wander too far from the point of this blog post (on the off-chance there is, in fact, a point), I looked up the word to see if I could learn its etymology. Here is what Wikipedia says about the word’s origin:

The word comes from “dispatch cock”, that is, a fowl that is dispatched quickly, and is first attested in 1785.

So there.

But as I read on in the article, Wikipedia suggested I also see blood eagle. Foolishly, I clicked on the link (as I often do on Wikipedia which then takes me off into a link-clicking route that may end up explaining the history of crochet stitches). It seems blood eagle is a type of human execution in which the victim lies prone on a table, his/her ribs are severed from the spine with a sharp tool, and the lungs are pulled through the opening to create a pair of “wings.” I’m telling you, those ancient Brits knew how to torture.

But back to spatchcocking, which is simply another word for butterflying. In other words, you use your kitchen shears or poultry shears and cut out the backbone of some kind of poultry, thereby allowing the bird to lie flat and roast or grill more quickly. The result is a crispier skin.

And, my friends, with chicken, it’s all about the skin.

My mother used to make Cornish game hens. She did not spatchcock them. Instead, she stuffed them with wild rice, slathered them with butter, sprinkled on salt and pepper, and roasted them in the oven. They were heavenly.

One day a year or so ago, I invited Addie, Alastair, Dagny, and Maggie Faith to dinner. I was serving Cornish game hens.  They were thrilled at the prospect. As excited as they were for dinner, they were equally disappointed when instead of little tiny hens lying on their plate, there were spatchcocked hens. Cut in half, no less. They would have been more impressed with KFC.

Ever since that lunch in which I was reminded about spatchcocking, I have been itching to get my hands on something to spatchcock. So last night, I made Cornish game hens, and as you can see, I got my chance…..

 

 

I mixed up about a half stick of butter with a couple of cloves of minced garlic, 1 t. chopped fresh rosemary, and 1 t. dried thyme (which came from my summer garden). I didn’t have any lemons, but lemon zest would have been good too. I salted and peppered the hens on both sides. I then put some of the butter under the skin, and (like my mother) slathered the remaining butter all over. I roasted them at 375 degrees for about an hour. I let them sit for about 10 minutes to rest……

Yum.

For kicks, you could drink a shot of Fireball Whiskey every time you read the word spatchcock in this blog post.

How Does Food Network Say to Do It?

imgresI have watched Food Network almost from the very beginning (which Wikipedia tells me was 1993). I watched Tyler Florence when he was on a program called How to Boil Water. He was something like 15 years old. I still prepare a chicken enchilada recipe I learned from him on the show.

I watched Emeril Lagasse entertain crowds via his over-the-top personality and garlic-laden cooking. I don’t believe I have ever cooked a single one of his recipes as they are way too complicated. Still, he was a founding food star on Food Network and fun to watch.

I watched the early Bobby Flay programs back when he had only married and divorced a couple of women and Giada De Laurentiis wasn’t even a gleam in his eye. I don’t believe I have ever even looked at one of his recipes because frankly, he annoys me and always has. How could he cheat on his beautiful and talented wife Stephanie March? You know how friends choose who they are going to stick with following a divorce? I choose Stephanie! I loved her on Law and Order. Still, I watched his shows. How could I not? They were ubiquitous.

I was a fan of Paula Deen up until, during, and after her remarks about her use of the “N” word. Her honesty was refreshing and it isn’t like she didn’t learn from her mistakes. But man-oh-man did she need a better PR strategy. As for her recipes, yes indeed I have used many. I make her cinnamon ice cream very often. It’s my go-to recipe for ice cream. If I make vanilla ice cream, I simply leave out the cinnamon and add vanilla. Boom.

You can still find reruns of Alton Brown’s Good Eats on the Cooking Channel – Food Network’s annoying little brother. Good Eats used to be on at 10 o’clock at night Monday through Friday. While it’s unimaginable to me now to think about not being in bed reading by 9:30, I recall watching the show as I waited up for Court to get home from wherever he wasn’t supposed to be. Alton Brown is seriously funny and his show was irresistible. Nevertheless, I found he made things so difficult. I remember that in his show about baking cakes, he advised that the cakemaker should weigh the two cake pans to ensure you are putting exactly the same amount in each. My apologies to all of you first-borns who actually do this, but – SERIOUSLY?

At first I took everything the chefs and cooks said as religion. For example, they said (and continue to say) you simply can’t be a good cook without a gas stove. For many years I lamented the fact that I cooked on an electric glasstop stove. A couple of years ago it hit me that, despite my use of an electric stove, I was a perfectly fine cook as was my mother, who mostly cooked on an electric stove, though I have a distant memory of a gas stove and her having to use a match to light it. It is this memory, in fact, that prevents me from reconfiguring my kitchen to allow cooking with gas, as I am terrified of blowing myself up. That, and I don’t have $30,000 for a kitchen remodel.

My favorite chef, as well as my favorite cooking show of course is Lidia Bastianich. She is not on Food Network, but instead appears on PBS. Next to my mother, Lidia is the person from whom I have learned the most about cooking. I own all of her cookbooks, and all are well-worn. I find I talk to myself while cooking as though I am talking with Lidia. I have had the good luck to eat at one of her restaurants on several occasions  — Becco in NYC. Each time I have fervently wished that she would appear out of the kitchen so that I could run up to her, throw my arms around her, and thank her for teaching me to cook.

I am pleased to tell you she never did.

I will also tell you that many of my grandkids also watch Food Network. The other night I watched Cake Wars with the McLains (aka, The Cousins) at their bequest, and Kaiya and Mylee often watch Chopped with their Dad. It brings tears to my eyes.

While I now take what the chefs tell me with a grain of salt (remembering, for example, that I am not rich enough to own a house in the Hamptons, nor do I have a sous chef to prepare my ingredients), I have learned a lot from watching the chefs on Food Network.

Next week I will tell you what I’ve learned.

And for kicks……

Homemade Cinnamon Ice Cream, Adapted from Paula Deen and Food Network
Yield: 2-3 quarts

Ingredients
2 c. half-and-half
2 cinnamon sticks
½ pint heavy whipping cream
14-oz can sweetened condensed milk, chilled
1 qt. whole milk

Process
In a saucepan, combine half-and-half and cinnamon sticks. Cook for 20 minutes over low heat (do not boil) Remove cinnamon sticks and chill milk for 4 hours.

With an electric mixer, beat whipping cream on high speed until soft peaks form. Add the chilled sweetened condensed milk and continue to beat until stiff peaks form.

Add chilled half-and-half. Pour mixture into the canister of ice cream freezer. Freeze according to the ice cream maker manufacturer’s directions. Place ice cream in another container and freeze for several hours.