A lot of girls have ripped someone’s heart out, but very few actually do it by hand. Sizzling hot chef Rochelle Bilow gave us the bloody rundown on what it’s like to slaughter your own chicken dinner…and then wear your meal as boxing gloves for some down-home country fisticuffs. She also furnished us another easy recipe you can make to impress a lady with your simple but superior cooking skills.
Caution: some graphic photos lie within, but you’re an adult and able to face where your food comes from, right?
Oh man, do I love springtime. The sun is out, the trees are budding and there’s a certain friskiness in the air that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “… like rabbits.”
That’s all great stuff, but the real reason this season rocks is because eating suddenly becomes a whole lot more fun. If you eat a diet that can be even remotely described as “local,” then you understand the last of the winter months offer a whole lot of nothing: stored root vegetables, beef and pork are pretty much what we’re looking at right up until April.
But then – all of a sudden, it seems – green things start appearing. Ramps, or wild leeks, garlic scapes and fiddlehead ferns are the first to appear and (despite sounding obnoxiously fussy) are absolutely delicious. Early produce inspires a rabid following among locavores, but there’s something that often gets forgotten in the flurry of spring fever: meat is a seasonal product, as well.
Chicken and lamb both make their first appearances a month or two after the first produce pops up at farmer’s markets, a fact that might bore you if you’re accustomed to buying meat at the supermarket where everything is available all the time. And hey, if that’s your thing, I can get down with that. But it’s worthwhile checking out chicken from a local farmer, or at least bringing home an organic one (chicken, that is. Or farmer, if they’re cute.) It’s tender and moist in a way that no industrially-raised bird is, and, if you’ll forgive me for being a little flowery about the whole thing, is a taste that just sings “spring” in a way few other meals do.
I work on a farm that raises, grows and produces meat, vegetables and dairy, and May 7th was our first chicken slaughter of the year. Every month until September, we’ll kill, clean and package a few hundred chickens, putting them in customers’ hands as early as the next day.
It was my first chicken slaughter – ever – and I was honestly a little worried about the whole thing. Having spent a few misguided years as a vegetarian as a teenager, there was a lingering sense of worry that I’d freak out about the amount of blood and death.
Turns out, I did just fine. The entire farm crew came together to work, with a few teamsters killing, scalding and removing feathers from the birds before the rest of us cleaned each one. I began by slicing off their feet and removing their heads (to do so, all you have to do is yank and twist, by the way), before moving onto eviscerating a few.
If you have a weak stomach, cleaning out the internal organs of any animal can be a challenge. But as the farm owner walked me through it, I was in a heady state of bliss. It felt incredible to be so close to food I’d eventually eat, and I got a little overzealous. As he instructed me to work my fingers between the neck and ribs to separate the esophagus, I reached my hand in further, coming out with a small red package about the size of a silver dollar. “Um, is this okay?” I asked, inspecting it.
“Wow. That’s the heart,” he said as the rest of the crew laughed. “You yanked it out through its throat.” I blushed a little – but not too much – and made an incision at the base of the chicken to properly remove the rest of its organs.
I didn’t cook chicken for dinner that night, but the next day I butterflied two and seared them in fat before roasting them to a golden-brown, delicate crisp in the oven. Food has never tasted so good.
Spatchcocked Chicken Recipe from Rochelle Bilow
If I’m being honest, I’ll admit that “spatchcock” is just weird culinary word for “butterfly.” Essentially, spatchcocking means cutting out both the backbone and the chestbone of a chicken, rendering it flat and pliable. The benefits of doing this are bountiful: not only does it facilitate better browning and more even cooking, you get to say the word “spatchcock.” As many times as you want.
- 1 chicken, preferably organic, around 3 ½-4 pounds
- 1 tablespoon coarse salt
- ½ tablespoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon neutral oil (such as canola or vegetable)
- 2 tablespoons butter
Special equipment: Heavy oven-proof skillet or cast iron pan, kitchen shears or sharp scissors
Rinse the chicken well, both outside and inside its cavity. Drain any excess water off and pat dry.
Place the chicken on a cutting board, breast-side down with its back end facing you. Using shears, make a cut on the left-hand side of the tail, directly next to the spine. Follow the outside of the spine with your scissors all the way up to the neck, then repeat on the right side of the spine. At this point, you should have completely removed the spine from the body. Save it for stock or just throw it in the pan when the chicken roasts. It’s delicious.
Flip the chicken over onto its back so the inside of the bird is facing upwards. Clean out any excess bits of gnarly-looking stuff from the flesh (like excess cartilage or liver. Hey, it happens.)
Locate the long, off-white bone in the middle of the chicken’s chest – it’s the width of about two fingers. Use a sharp knife to cut down either side of that – like you did to the spine – then wiggle your knife underneath the bone: in between it and the flesh. Hold the chicken steady with one hand and yank upwards on the bone with the other; it should snap out. The meat might look a bit mangled at this point, but we’re totally in the trust tree and no one’s judging you.
Once that’s done, you have a spatchcocked chicken! Celebrate by saying it out loud. Now, to cook it:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Meanwhile, place an oven-proof skillet or cast iron pan on a stovetop burner over medium-high heat. Add the oil to the pan while it warms up. Season the chicken with salt, pepper and coriander on all sides.
When the pan is hot and the oil has a sheen to it but is not smoking, place the chicken skin-side down in the pan. Sear for 3-4 minutes, until the skin is browned and crisp. Flip the chicken over so the breast faces up and rub the butter all over its skin.
Slide the pan into the preheated oven and cook for 40-45 minutes, until a thermometer inserted into the thigh reads 165 degrees.* Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before portioning and serving.
*It’s worth mentioning that I don’t actually advocate cooking a chicken to 165 degrees. Sure, there’s those FDA guidelines, but I find that 165 is just dry and chewy – words we definitely don’t like. When I cook chicken at home, I pull it out of the oven as soon as it reaches 150 degrees; it will continue to cook as it cools, anyway.
Don’t stop there! Learn Rochelle’s recipe for beer-braised spicy pork tacos that make themselves while you play video games all day. –>