Chicken Guy had no time for insane customers talking about butterflies and frogs 'cause he was selling chickens and ducks. It was Sunday morning, his busiest time of the week. The market was heaving. "Cut into two pieces?" he suggested.
"NOOO! NO!" Dang! What is 'spatchcock' in Chinese? I decided to try a less abstract explanation. "Ok, cut out the bone in the back." I pointed at my own backbone as I spoke. Chicken Guy finally understood what I wanted. He lifted his knife and, just as he was swinging into action, I yelled, "DON'T CUT THE FRONT! Only the back!" Chicken Guy jumped visibly, and he gave me a dirty, 'I know' look. Whaaat? It's better to be clear than sorry, right? The surly chap turned to his chopping board again and in two seconds flat, held up a beautifully spatchcocked chicken. "Yes! That's what I want! What do you call a chicken cut like that?"
"I don't know." What? They don't do spatchcocks in China? I bet they don't do smiles either!
Since that little episode at the market, I've learnt how to make chickens look like frogs/butterflies. You know, in case I want one in Russia or Zimbabwe where chicken guys might not understand what I say. Or in Desert Island where there's no chicken guy, presumably. Nothing to it at all! Here's a video:
I've got a few tricks up my sleeve for making sure that roast chickens are juicy and moist: Use spatchcocks, because they cook faster and more evenly than whole chickens. Less time spent in the oven means the birds have less time to dry out. Brine overnight. The chicken is moist with the brine solution it absorbs. It also cooks faster after it's brined. Air dry the chicken before roasting. This helps the skin brown faster and shortens the roasting time. Air drying also helps the meat side brown faster. The crust formed seals in the juices. For this to happen, the chicken has to be roasted on a rack instead of sitting directly on the pan. Prop up the bottom and sides of the chicken with parchment paper balls, so that the top of the bird is as flat as possible. Use the right temperature and roasting time so that the meat is just cooked and the skin is brown and crisp at the same time and in the shortest time possible. For a 1 kg brined, air dried spatchcock, that's 220°C for 35-40 minutes. If the chicken is much bigger, not spatchcocked, not air dried or not brined, the ideal temperature and roasting time would be different. Making a juicy roast chicken is easy. I swear, even the breast meat can be plump and moist! And, despite my long-winded notes, the preparation is all done in about 10 minutes. It's 10 very rewarding minutes once you get it right!
|ROAST CHICKEN WITH MIXED HERBS|
(Recipe for 6 persons)
1 spatchcocked spring chicken (aka Cornish hen or poussin), about 1 kg
1 tbsp mixed dried herb
I use a readymade mix of thyme, rosemary, summer savory, basil, oregano and majoram bought from Phoon Huat; when it's a fresh, just opened bottle, I use a bit less2 tbsp sea salt
½ tsp ground white pepper
3 shallots, finely chopped
1 tbsp unsalted butter
In a small pot, mix herbs, salt, pepper and shallots with ½ cup hot water. Cover and steep for 5 minutes. Add 1½ cups room temperature water. Give it a few stirs. Leave till cool.
Rinse chicken thoroughly, removing feathers if any. Drain well. Tuck in wings. Trim excess fat around bottom. Place chicken in a plastic bag. Add brine mixture. Tie a tight knot in the bag, or zip it. Place on a plate, skin side down so that cut side forms a cavity (sort of) for the brine. Refrigerate for 12 hours.
Remove chicken from brine. If there are clumps of herbs or shallots, scrape them off (a few specks are ok). Hang chicken somewhere with a piece of string so that it can air dry. I usually hang it on the kitchen tap for about 4 hours, and put a table fan set at medium next to it. If chicken can't be hung in a sink, use a pot to catch the drips.
Preheat oven to 220°C. Line roasting pan with aluminium foil. Place a rack in the pan. Gently heat butter in a small pot till it stops bubbling. Do not brown. When chicken is dry, brush with melted butter.
Place chicken in the roasting pan, cut side up. Roast 25 minutes in the middle of the oven. Flip chicken over. Move pan to top of the oven. Roast till chicken feels firm, juices run clear, and skin is crisp and brown, 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes before serving.