Friday, July 1, 2011


by Sheila Connolly

This is your chicken.

This is your chicken on drugs.

Oops, wrong script.  The latter picture is actually a spatchcocked chicken.  Don't you love that word?  Actually it was hyperactive Gordon Ramsay who introduced me to the term, on his entertaining cable television show The F Word.  All it means is that you remove the backbone and the breastbone from your chicken (or any other bird) so you can flatten it and cook it on the grill or broil it.

How do you remove the backbone (with a minimum of wrestling and cursing)?  Poultry shears.  I inherited these from my mother (who never in her life spatchcocked a chicken, as far as I can recall).  Snip along both sides of the spine and remove it, nick the sternum so it splits easily and then wrench out the cartilage and bone (did I say this was for the faint of heart?), and then lean on the bird to make it lay flat. 

It's summer (someone should tell the New England weather that), and it's grilling season.  I will confess I am a grilling dinosaur:  I've been using the same Weber grill for decades.  No propane, no fancy dials--just fire and a cover, and a couple of vents to control the temperature.  I'll admit that I know that charcoal briquets are evil, and the fire-starter stuff you squirt all over them makes things worse, but I tell myself I don't use them that much.  Really.  And if it's 100 degrees in my non-air-conditioned kitchen, no way am I heating up the broiler.

Now it's time to marinate your flat chicken.  I have a go-to marinade that I cribbed from Julia Child's From Julia Child's Kitchen, but of course I've modified it.  It's simple:  lemon peel, fresh ginger, garlic, soy sauce, olive oil, a dash of sesame oil, thyme, salt and pepper.  Oh, you want measurements?

The thinly-peeled rind of 2 lemons

2-3 thin slices fresh ginger

2 Tblsp soy sauce

4 Tblsp olive oil

1 tsp sesame oil

2-4 cloves garlic (I use a garlic press, which St. Julia frowns upon, or you can mince it finely)

Thyme (fresh if possible)

Freshly-ground pepper

If you love to julienne, have at it with the lemon peel and the ginger.  If you're in a hurry, grate the ginger and even the lemon rind.  I promise I won't tell anyone.  Use fresh thyme if you have it, but dried is fine too.

I had to add this picture of the liquid ingredients just because they looked so cool when I combined them.

Mix everything together and massage your bird with it.  If you don't want your hands to smell like garlic and sesame oil for the rest of the day, wear gloves or paint the marinade on with a brush.

Now cook your bird.  You're going to have to use your judgment here, but this is what I do.

--make a nice fire in your grill, Wait until the coals are covered with grey ash, and spread out the coals evenly. 

--put your grate over the coals and lay your flat chicken on it, skin side down.

--Cover the grill and cook for ten minutes.

--Turn over your chicken, cover the grill again, and cook for another ten minutes.

As you can guess, the timing depends on how big and how hot your fire is, not to mention how big your chicken is.  You can poke the chicken with your finger to test it, and if it's too squishy, it's probably not cooked through.  If the legs fall off, it's definitely done.

And there you go!  It smells delicious, it's low calorie, and it's easy.  Happy summer grilling!  And have a wonderful (and safe) holiday weekend.


Almost forgot to mention:  Let's Play Dead comes out next Tuesday!  Shocking things happen at the Philadelphia children's museum, Let's Play, and Nell Pratt is on the scene. Click here or on the book cover to learn more.

But wait!  There's more!  My first e-book, Called Home, debuted on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and a lot of other places.  It's a prequel to the Orchard Mystery series, and there's a ghost--maybe.  And it includes a peek at the next book in the series, Bitter Harvest, coming in August. Click here or on the book cover to jump to the Amazon product page.


  1. I think I just learned a new word!~

    This doesn't look nearly as hard as I'd thought, Sheila. Thanks for sharing it. Are you going to have a cookout for the 4th?

  2. Yum, Sheila. Thanks. I think that should solve the problem of chicken not getting done on the grill. And a new word is always nice!


  3. Sheila, I laughed out loud. Love it. Spatchcocked. Got to use that in my normal everyday life. Maybe on the golf course. LOL! Love the chicken and congrats on both books, Lets Play Dead is a great title. And an e-book prequel. I'm assuming novella length? What fun is this!

    Enjoy every moment.


  4. I love this word. Spatchcocked!

    Congrats on your upcoming release!

  5. Thanks, all. I'm tempted to put the marinade on just about anything, but I restrain myself.

    And I'm so proud: Let's Play Dead is my title, one of the few that Berkley let met keep. The book is based (loosely) on the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, where I once worked, so I couldn't resist the pun.

  6. Fun post, great word, and I think I'll go *with* smelling like garlic and sesame oil because that grilled chicken looks, well, finger lickin’ good (to borrow a title from Elizabeth).

    And speaking of titles...LET'S PLAY DEAD is a fantastic one, and your e-book prequel is exciting to see. Congrats on both, Sheila, and have a wonderful weekend.

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  7. Great recipe, Sheila. I've always wanted instructions on how to do Spatchcock chicken. I love the sound of that marinade too and like you, I much prefer charcoal to gas grill.

    Congrats on the new releases! What a week for you!

  8. Don't have a grill but I might try it in the broiler.... also bought the e-book.


  9. Great job on the grill! And good luck with your new books... ebooks are coming and will be taking over soon.

  10. I think Cook's magazine had a spatchcocked chicken recipe many years ago. For a while that was the only way we wanted our chicken. It comes out so lovely and moist. I've never grilled it, though. I just popped it into the oven. Must find my kitchen shears and make one!

    I have to add how much I love the cover of Let's Play Dead. Adorable.

    ~ Krista

  11. I had never heard the word spatchcocked and had to drop by and see what was going on. Frankly the chicken looked a little scary to me :) that is of course until you see it on the grill then it looks yummy - LOL. Thank you for sharing today.