Grill butterflied or spatchcocked bird in a hurry

Grill recipes calling for thinner cuts and delicate proteins, such as fish or seafood, are the main course in this week’s A la Carte.

Quickly caramelizing a tender cut of meat, piece of produce or underripe fruit has lost none of its luster, despite our family’s purchase of a pellet smoker several summers back. The smoker is ideal for hands-off, outdoor cooking of foods that need time to roast and render. But the planning it requires has become a stumbling block on more than one occasion.

Although the smoker produced the best turkey my husband and I have ever tasted, it required a good hour of cooking time beyond what we had estimated. Worth the wait on a quiet evening at home once the kids are in bed, but not so practical when we have hungry mouths to feed or dinner guests arriving at an appointed time. I’ve found myself on more than one occasion cranking the smoker up 100 degrees to put the rush on a roast chicken.

There is a technique that speeds poultry along considerably and promotes even doneness of both light and dark meat. Spatchcocking also could be termed “butterflying,” essentially cutting meat laterally so it will lie flat on a cooking surface. In the case of chicken and other small poultry, this requires snipping through the backbone and ribs — easiest with sharp kitchen shears — and then a bit of muscle to press down and widen out the chicken’s surface area.

More precise instructions follow in this recipe from Tribune News Service. Its sophisticated flavor profile calls for fig jam, which I always keep on hand but usually struggle to use up once a jar’s been opened. With the season for fresh figs still months in the making, plums could be a nice substitute here.

Tribune News Service photo

Spatchcocked Chicken With Fig Glaze

1 cup coarse sea salt

1/2 cup sugar

4 bay leaves

2 teaspoons each coriander and fennel seeds

Zest of 2 lemons

1 sliced red chili pepper

1 large (4 1/2 pound) chicken

3/4 cup fig jam

3 1/2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar

14 ounces broccolini

4 large black figs, cut in half (I used pitted dates)

Olive oil, for cooking

Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

Prepare brine in a medium nonreactive saucepan by combining 4½ cups water with the sea salt, sugar, bay leaves, coriander and fennel seeds, lemon zest and chili. Slowly bring to a boil, stirring as you go to dissolve salt and sugar. Remove from heat and allow to cool before using.

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and position on a stable cutting board, breast side down, and cut out backbone using kitchen shears or a sharp chef’s knife. Make a cut along 1 side of backbone, starting down near where thighs meet tail. Continue cutting, working your way around thigh joint until you’ve snipped through every rib bone and completely split chicken up to its neck. Turn bird over and press on it HARD to flatten. (You should hear a couple of cracks.)

Pour brine into a nonreactive container large enough to hold chicken and pour in enough cold water to cover. Leave in fridge for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

To make glaze, combine in a medium-sized saucepan the fig jam, vinegar and 1/3 cup water; bring to boil on stovetop. Stir until jam has melted. Set aside.

Light grill and set for direct/indirect cooking. Lift chicken out of brine and pat dry with paper towels. Rub with one-third of glaze and season with salt and pepper. Place chicken, skin-side down, on grill in direct heat zone and cook for 4 minutes, to start caramelizing skin. Turn chicken over and transfer it indirect heat zone.

After 10 minutes, baste chicken with fig glaze and continue to cook for another 30 to 40 minutes, glazing it twice more during process. When it is ready, an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part without touching bone should register 165 F, and outside will be nicely glazed and caramelized. Rest chicken in a warm spot for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss the broccolini with olive oil, salt and pepper and place in grill basket. Place basket in direct heat zone, along with the figs or dates. Cook for about 15 minutes until fruit is soft and sticky and broccolini is nicely charred and al dente.

Serve chicken on a platter with broccolini and roasted fruit.

Makes 4 servings.

— Recipe adapted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from “Grill Smoke BBQ” by Ben Tish (Quadrille, April 2017, $35).

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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