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