This dish instantly takes me back to Thessaloniki (and Greece) – just this past May. I stayed for about a week at my favourite uncle’s place, “Theo Mitso”. My uncle saved his drachmas, built a wonderful new home in the suburbs and surrounded the family with a lawn, gardens, olive and varied fruit trees.
In the winter time when people are entertaining the kitchen seems to become the center of gravity as the guests hover near the food. The same goes for the outdoors – guests hover around the grill. My uncle built a covered outdoor grill pit that is used to entertain and he’s even rigged it for rotisserie lamb for Easter!
One of these days I’m going to make it to Greece for Easter but in the meantime, I have wonderful memories of Spring in Greece and one of them was grilling this “spatchcock” or butterflied chicken at my Theo Mitso’s. I helped him by butterflying the chicken with a cut down along the spine of the bird, we then flattened the chicken with a heavy pot and tossed it in a marinade of garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, salt and pepper.
My uncle’s chicken was juicy, with crisp skin and that mellow smoky flavour that only fruit wood can impart, the meat was juicy and flavourful and I can still smell and taste this chicken now! Here in the west, butterflying a whole chicken in this way is called “spatchcock” and I do like saying “spatchcock”, I know you secretly like to too but if you’re too shy you may call this butterflied chicken.
The flavours of this marinade will please the Greek palate: oregano and thyme, lemon and garlic, paprika and pepper, sea salt and bay leaves. I’ve also added a couple of shots of Tsipouro into the marinade to help soften the meat and add some complexity to the flavour. Tsipouro is made with the stems and grapes leftover from winemaking and it’s tradtionally made in Autumn. The grapes, stems are crushed, fermented and boiled in copper stills and then double (sometimes triple) distilled until the “heart of the heart”, the purist Tsipouro is made. Tsipouro is a digestif often served after meal and it may contain anise or not. The Tsipouro I used here contains no anise but the aroma of the grapes and stems comes through. The Cretans call this Raki or Tsikoudia and Italians produce Grappa. Choose your booze, butterfly and grill a whole chicken and welcome the grilling season!
Spatchcock Chicken (Κοτοπουλο Πεταλουδα στη Σχαρα)
1 whole chicken, rinsed & patted dry
1/4 cup olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, minced
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp. sweet paprika
2 shots of Tsipouro (or Grappa)
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp. chopped fresh oregano (1/2 if dried)
1 tsp. fresh black pepper
1 tsp. sea salt
4-5 bay leaves
- Flip your chicken with the back facing up towards you. Using kitchen sheatrs or a heavy sharp knife, cut down along the spine to open the chicken’s cavity. Flip the bird (breast side now facing you) and press down on the carcass with your hands. You may also use a meat mallet or heavy pot to help flatten the bird. Rinse and pat dry the chicken and reserve on a baking tray/vessel.
- In a bowl, add the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, paprika, Tsipouro (grappa), thyme, oregano, salt and pepper and whisk well with a fork. Pour the marinade over the chicken, add the bay leaves and rub it into the entire chicken. Cover and place in the fridge for 6 hours to overnight.
- Allow your chicken to return to room temperature before grilling. Prepare your gas or charcoal grill with the goal of attaining a medium heat (count of 5 when placing hand over heat). Brush your grill surface and lightly lubricate /wipe with an oil-treated towel.
- Season your chicken lightly with coarse sea salt and a bit more fresh ground pepper and when you’ve attained medium heat, slap the bird breast-side down over direct medium heat. In the meantime, add some halved onions, lemons and whole tomatoes and peppers on the grill as they make for a wonderful complement to your spatchcock chicken.
- Grill on each side for approx 20 minutes a side and stay near your grill and be wary of any fat flare-ups from the fat in the chicken’s skin. The chicken is easy when the juices run clear, the quarter leg should wiggle/almost come apart from the body or use a meat thermometer (should read 180F).
- Remove the chicken from the grill and serve on a platter with BBQ potatoes, grilled lemons, tomatoes and peppers, Drizzle some olive oil on the chicken and squeeze some of the sweet grilled lemon over the bird. Sprinkle some dried Greek oregano and garnish with some thyme or oregano sprigs. Serve with a Boutari “4 Seasons” white.
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