Spatchcocked Chicken “Under a Brick”

Spatchcocked Chicken

Sometimes you come across a disruptive recipe and your life changes forever. This is one such recipe.

It was recommended to me by a reader named Saudia, from Oregon, who answered my call for recipe suggestions to use my brand-new Lodge pan, a US-made cast-iron skillet that goes elegantly from stove to oven. I’d been coveting one for a long time without ever having room in my luggage to bring it back from my travels, but early this summer, I finally found out it was available in Europe.

Saudia pointed me to the recipe Mark Bittman had published in the New York Times in 1997 (so, yeah, nothing new), and when I went on a search for images of the finished results, I stumbled upon this more recent post by my friend Adam, who had merged Bittman’s recipe with Amanda Hesser’s. I mostly followed the instructions outlined by Adam, with a few minor modifications.

This creates a marvellously colored chicken with a crisp, crackly skin, perfectly cooked everything, and lots of delicious, garlic-infused cooking juices.

First, you spatchcock* your chicken, which sounds a lot more intimidating than it really is: all you need to do is cut the chicken on either side of the backbone — I use kitchen shears — then flip the chicken and press it down firmly so it lies flat (check out this video). This allows the chicken to cook faster and more evenly.

I’d done spatchcocking once before, inspired by an old Gwyneth Paltrow video, of all things, but the chicken had turned out pretty dry so I’d gone back to my standard recipes for whole chicken: Muriel’s chicken or, with a bit more time on my hands, salt-crusted chicken or chicken in a bread crust.

But this recipe introduces a clever trick: you start by placing the chicken, skin side down, in a hot and oiled skillet, and you use a weight of some kind — the traditional recipe uses a brick, hence the name of the recipe — to press it down into the pan so the skin will brown nicely. The whole thing is then transfered to a very hot oven, where the chicken will roast for 15 minutes with the weight still on, and 15 more minutes skin side up and weight off.

This creates a marvellously colored chicken with a crisp, crackly skin; perfectly cooked everything (including the breasts, which don’t dry out); and lots of delicious, garlic-infused cooking juices that drip into the skillet under the chicken and stay there without burning or evaporating. And all this in a mere 35 minutes! We’ve been so finger-licking impressed that the rôtisseries in our neighborhood might not see us quite so often.

For optimal flavor, the recipe also has you rub the chicken with olive oil, salt, dried herbs, and cumin (my own addition), and you should do this a little bit in advance, to allow the seasoning to be absorbed fully. For convenience, I like to spatchcock and rub the chicken the day before, and then keep it in the fridge until I’m ready to cook it the next day.

In terms of equipment, you do need a cast iron skillet — or any heavy skillet — that’s ovenproof, and large enough to fit your spatchcocked chicken. I use this 26-cm (10-inch) Lodge pan and a standard French chicken fits in nice and snug. You also need something to use as the weight: if you’re the kind of person who has ready access to loose bricks you’ll wrap one in foil, but failing that you can use a second cast-iron skillet or the lid of a Dutch oven. I use the lid from this adorable cocotte.

Join the conversation!

Have you ever spatchcocked a chicken? How did you cook it and how did you like the results?

* In French, a spatchcocked chicken is called by the cute term poulet en crapaudine, because the chicken is made to look a little bit like a toad, or crapaud. Croak, croak!

Spatchcocked Chicken

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Coconut Butter: 20+ Divine Ways To Use It

Hand-crafted mini cutting board from my friend at Earlywood.

Hand-crafted mini cutting board from my friend at Earlywood.

If you’re a coconut butter virgin, you are in for a life-changing discovery… and I apologize in advance if you develop an addiction to the stuff, as many of us have.

Coconut butter — not to be mistaken with coconut oil — is made from the dried meat of the coconut, which is finely ground until it releases its oil. This turns it into a lusciously creamy substance, with a slightly grainy texture that is most pleasant, and a subtly sweet, irresistible coconut flavor. Just like coconut oil, it is set at moderate room temperature, entirely solid when left in the fridge, and soft when heated*, or during a heatwave.

I first discovered coconut butter from Dastony, thanks to my friend Rebecca who introduced me to their amazing product line. Theirs is organic, raw, and stone-ground, but I am unable to get it in France, so I have been buying “coconut manna” from Nutiva instead. You’ll also find coconut butter sold under the name of coconut spread, creamed coconut, or coconut cream concentrate; in all cases, favor organic and make sure it is made from 100% coconut.

I confess my favorite way to enjoy it is by the spoonful — a single spoonful at a time, for it is quite rich — possibly paired with a banana as a quick pick-me-up in the afternoon, but there are plenty of other uses, and I have compiled a tempting list for your and my convenience.

Here are 20+ delicious things you can do with coconut butter; you will also find them on the coconut butter bliss Pinterest board I’ve created.

Hand-crafted mini cutting board from my friend at Earlywood.

Hand-crafted mini cutting board from my friend at Earlywood.

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Zucchini Noodle Salad

Zucchini Noodles

In the heart of summer, when the zucchini I find at the greenmarket is the pocket-size kind that feels firm and bouncy with youth, all I want to do is eat it raw.

I really love (love, love!) shaving it for this zucchini tarte fine I shared a few summers ago, and I also like to cut it into sticks for dipping in muhammara or roasted eggplant and yogurt dip.

But most recently, my raw zucchini obsession has revolved around zucchini noodles: crisp, fresh, graceful on the plate, and so fun to eat.

Looking closely at the zucchini noodles on my plate that day, I had an epiphany.

The passion was ignited during a trip to Corsica one spring: at a sun-bleached restaurant on the isolated bay where we were staying, I was served a dish of fried calamari over zucchini noodles. Up until then, I’d been sure you needed a spiralizer to make them, and although the Benriner model had been on my wishlist for years, I’d stayed on the fence because I was not sure how well it worked, and reluctant to find room for such a bulky gadget.

But looking closely at the zucchini noodles on my plate that day, I had an epiphany: these were simply made with a mandoline slicer! A tool I already owned! And the very same one whose virtues I extolled when I wrote about grated carrots.

All you need to do is set up the mandoline slicer with the comb-like blade, and feed the zucchini through it along its full length, as if it were riding down a water slide*.

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Apricot Blueberry Cobbler

Apricot Blueberry Cobbler

I’d been living in California for a few months and thoroughly enjoying the dotcom vibe of my workplace when the big news was announced: we were going to have a company barbecue.

This, to me, was what working in the Silicon Valley at the turn of the century was all about: a lot of fun ideas to make employees happy (water guns! foosball table! free pizza on Fridays!) and therefore more inclined to put in the hours and brain juice that would help the company grow (until it didn’t, but that’s another story).

A cobbler, someone explained, is someone who mends shoes. This didn’t make much sense to me, so I gently inquired: okay, but, um, why? My American-born coworkers conferred for a while, spoon in mid-air, brow furrowed, until they had to admit no one had a reasonable explanation.

And so, on barbecue day, everyone pitched in — some set up the burger assembly station, others grilled the burger patties (and veggie substitutes, this was California after all), others yet plopped scoops of salad (potato or pasta salad, I mean) onto plates, or rounded up anyone still hiding out in his cube — before sitting down on the sunny deck at the back of our offices to dig in.

A few people had volunteered to bring dessert, and among them, someone (Barbara, from client ops) had baked a peach cobbler.

While people oohed and aahed, I asked: what’s a cobbler? A cobbler, someone explained, is someone who mends shoes (un cordonnier in French). This didn’t make much sense to me, so I gently inquired: okay, but, um, why? My American-born coworkers conferred for a while, spoon in mid-air and brow furrowed, until they had to admit no one had a reasonable explanation.

No matter: we all know where the proof of the pudding is, and this one was very good indeed.

A cobbler is one of those all-American desserts with funny names — together with the brown betty, the buckle, the grunt, the slump, and the pandowdy — in which seasonal fruit is topped with some sort of dough, and then cooked or baked.

In the case of the cobbler, the topping is a sugar-dusted biscuit dough that is strewn across the fruit, either in rough hand-torn pieces, as I like to do, or in neat rounds, if you prefer (though I suspect it only looks that way if you use the ready-made biscuit dough sold in canisters at the grocery store).

The cobbler is a nice change of pace from the crumble or the crisp, in that it offers a wider range of textures: the dough becomes browned and crisp at the top, remains tender like the insides of a scone in the middle, and melds with the juicy fruit at the bottom.

Because I was first introduced to the cobbler by way of Barbara’s, it remains iconically linked to peaches in my mind. But really, any ripe fruit can be used, and I particularly like the apricot and blueberry version I baked last week when friends came over for dinner.

I use almond flour in my cobbler dough for a smoother mouthfeel, and when I make it for stone fruit, I like to flavor it with a prudent splash of orange blossom water. It is often recommended to serve the cobbler with vanilla ice cream, but I am French and I like it better with crème fraîche: I think it does a better job at underlining the natural sweetness of the fruit.

If you’re still puzzled about the name, as I am, know that it may in fact be linked to the topping’s resemblance to the shape of cobblestones, or of cobbles, which are either rounded hills or lumps of coals. But the truth is nobody really knows — not even food history librarian Lynne Olver, who nonetheless offers quotes and references that speaks to the origins of the dish.

(And for more desserts in the cobbler family, see this rhubarb raspberry grunt and this brown butter spiced crisp.)

Apricot Blueberry Cobbler

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August 2015 Desktop Calendar

August 2015 Desktop Calendar

At the beginning of every month, I am offering a new wallpaper to apply on the desktop of your computer, with a food-related picture and a calendar of the current month.

The desktop calendar is available in two versions: a US-friendly version that features Sunday as the first day of the week, and a French version (shown above) that complies with international standards, featuring Monday as the first day of the week.

Our calendar for August is a photo of the gorgeous tomatoes my producer bestows upon us all summer, to our absolute glee. I make tons of tomato salads with them, and here are some of my favorite tomato recipes, to which I’ll add the wonderful tomato panade (a chunky bread-thickened summer soup) featured in The French Market Cookbook.

Instructions to get your calendar are below.

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