You can certainly barbecue a whole chicken in its original shape (either with or without a spit), but butterflying it and opening it up so that it lays flat on a grill allows not only for a faster barbecuing time, but ensures more even cooking too. We will take a look at this technique in today’s post and, if you have never tried butterflying a chicken before, don’t worry… it’s really very simple…
To butterfly, lay the chicken on a flat surface with the breast side down and then cut along one side of the backbone using a sharp knife or (even better) poultry shears. Here you can see that I have started the cut, but you need to go from one end right through to the other.
It is possible to butterfly a chicken flat without entirely removing the backbone but there really isn’t enough meat there to make this worthwhile and the chicken will lay flatter on the grill if you take it out entirely. Simply repeat the first cut on the other side of the bone and remove it for later use in your stockpot.
Now place the chicken breast side up and press down hard to flatten. Don’t worry if some of the ribs splinter when you do this.
Naturally, the seasoning possibilities are endless but, today, I am going to do a vaguely Mediterranean sort of production. For this recipe, mix together, as a marinade, the following:
- 1 tbsp. each chopped fresh Rosemary, Sage and Parsley;
- 2 tbsp. minced Garlic;
- 1 tbsp. minced Lemon Zest;
- 1 tbsp. Salt;
- 1 tsp. Pepper;
To really flavor the chicken, you need to loosen the skin and get some of the marinade down underneath it. Pry the skin away from the flesh (this will actually help result in a lovely crispness) and get the solids and some oil in as far as possible. You can (and I did) get the mix even further down across the breast than is shown in the above picture.
Don’t leave out the legs…
Use the remaining marinade to coat the entire surface of the skin and then place the chicken breast side down in a suitable receptacle and cover the inside as well. Put the chicken in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 4 hours or (better still) overnight.
You will need to baste the chicken towards the end of the grilling time, so mix together a teaspoon of sugar with about a quarter cup of oil. Do this in the bowl you used to make the marinade so that the leftover ‘bits’ flavor the oil.
Cooks can argue endlessly about the best method of grilling … Direct vs. indirect heat, or skin-side down first vs. skin-side up, etc. … but really, as long as you are careful and adjust the heat and cooking times to the vagaries of your own grill, there isn’t a particular ‘right’ way to do things.
Here, I began my chicken skin-side up over a low flame, but with the grill covered and the other burners turned up to keep the heat inside the barbecue at about 375. I allowed about 40 minutes or so for this first step and then finished the chicken over high flame, turning several times to achieve the desired browning and crispiness. I apologize for not having a photograph of the end-grilling but I also have to confess to a bit of a mishap… At one point, I was inattentive long enough for a serious flare-up to occur. Luckily, there was no extensive burning, but in my haste to move and turn the chicken I inadvertently tore the skin. The artfully placed Rosemary sprig in the very first photograph is less for decoration than it is for concealment …
Despite the cosmetic difficulties I experienced here, I was generally pleased with the result. The Mediterranean flavorings were really nice and the flesh very, very tender. Indeed, my wife commented on the moistness of the breast meat and I was also pleasantly surprised by this. In truth, an element of luck probably played as much a part in this as good management, but I have to say that I have not had the white meat turn out quite this moist and juicy over dry heat without using brining or some other technique. Anyway, I served this chicken with roast vegetables (as you can see) and my wife and pronounced the whole affair very delicious indeed…