Proper preparation is aided by the use of proper techniques. As they say, there is more than one way to skin a cat and I have found that for just about every ingredient out there, a multitude of cooking techniques can be used. Let me preface this discussion by saying that I am (obviously) not a professionally trained chef. I have learned by trial and error, exploration of cookbooks, finding the things that I like to eat and figuring out the best way to make them, compatible with my time restraints, palate and equipment on hand. I can certainly find my way around the kitchen but I do occasionally stumble on the nuances between say par-boiling and blanching (yeah, I know, partially cooking in boiling water is par-boiling and blanching is a quick dip with an ice bath after). This aside, I have been attempting to increase my arsenal of techniques by intentionally preparing a dish that uses a method that I am unfamiliar with and learning it as I go along. I’d probably be kicked out of any formal instruction for my random and cavalier ways but its working for me so I’m going to go with it.
My new favorite technique is Spatchcocking… First off, its got a really funny name which makes it fun to talk about. Sounds vaguely dirty to me. I’m pretty sure it was Alton Brown that I first saw use it on an episode of Good Eats but I have since used it numerous times with varying success. The whole principle of this is to reshape a chicken or other bird to present more surface area to the heat. More surface area equals faster cooking times and when barbequing, more delicious carbonization and caramelization of any sugars in your marinade or coating.
I use the technique detailed in the link above but add the step of two small incisions in the skin between the drumsticks. This way, you can tuck the ends of the drumsticks into the slits and have a nice convenient package that stays in place while cooking. I have spatchcocked Cornish hens twice in the recent past, once for the grill outside and once for stovetop grilling. The important factor is to keep the meat flat and in as much contact with your heat element as possible. To this end, on the grill outside, use a brick or two wrapped in foil. Heavy enough to hold it down but not so heavy as to crush your bird. Inside on the stovetop, I took a small stockpot filled with water and used that as my weight. Again, this is the Alton Brown influence, I can’t take credit, I’m just putting the techniques into practice.
The cooking time, as mentioned above, is cut down considerably by increasing your surface area. The results are downright tasty and quick and I think that I am going to take the dive and try to spatchcock a turkey come thanksgiving. It’s a bit daunting but I think the ends will definitely justify the means.