Monday, November 30, 2009

The Skinny on Spatchcocking

I know, it gets your attention every time – “spatchcocking”. What the heck is that anyway? Simple answer: removing the backbone from a turkey (or chicken, or quail or any other fowl creature), flipping it over, breaking the breastbone and cooking it flat. But you probably wanted to know what it actually means. I did some digging (i.e. a quick google search) and here’s what I found:
The origin of “spatchcock” seems to be under debate. The folks at Oxford think it’s Irish, and a combination of “dispatch” (as in “quick”) and “cock,” – Dispatch the Cock! But the Random House Webster’s College Dictionary dismisses that theory and ties the word to “spitchcock,” a dish made with fried eels. [ed. note: that’s a rather odd turn of events, and I’m not quite sure what eels have to do with anything.]
I’ve been intrigued ever since Martha floated the idea of spatchcocking your Thanksgiving bird and we gave one a test drive this Saturday. The process started on Wednesday when I actually performed the manual labor of spatchcocking. Full disclosure: it’s not as easy as they (i.e. Martha Stewart) makes it sound. It’s actually really hard and was accompanied by a lot of cursing and moments when I really didn’t think I was going to finish (thus ending up with a half-cocked turkey). But I muscled through, flipped it over, had husband break the breastbone (We think anyway. Again, not as easy as it sounds and it never really made a discernible “popping” sound like you would expect). But, it was flat and that’s all we were going for. I dry-brined it for a few days, rinsed it off and let it air dry in the refrigerator overnight. I made a paste of herbs, salt, pepper and olive oil and cooked in a 450 degree oven for about 80 minutes. Turned out great! Would I do it again? Yes, for quite a few reasons with one caveat:
  1. It makes it really easy to move it around and store because it’s flat on a sheet pan.
  2. You can use the backbone, giblets and wings* to make a great turkey stock for gravy while the turkey is dry-brining (* I also removed the wings after cutting out the backbone).
  3. It’s really easy to carve once it comes out of the oven and rests.
  4. It produces a lot of great crispy skin.
  5. It’s fast.
  6. And it’s easier IF (this is where the caveat comes in) you either (a) have really, freakishly strong hands or (b) have a GREAT pair of kitchen shears. Mine are not great, as I found out.
So, I will definitely be doing this again – after I buy a new pair of good, sharp kitchen shears. I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving and you should consider spatchcocking your Holiday turkey!

Photo Martha Stewart Living