Kitchen Hack: How to Cook a Turkey with Spatchcocking
Easter Weekend is fast approaching. Chocolate Easter Bunnies have been prominently displayed in the supermarket aisles for several weeks now, and on my way into town the local Catholic church had posted its liturgical schedule for Holy Week for all to see. Lent is officially finished, and its time to celebrate!
Easter Bunnies and Good Friday Mass aside, for most of us this means some kind of familial get-together with the ubiquitous turkey dinner – a prospect that strikes fear and dread into those uninitiated in the preparations of large family dinners.
I’m here to tell you that you that there is a little culinary trick you can pull out on Easter Sunday to speed up the process of turkey dinner. Preparing a full-on turkey dinner needn’t require a day of being chained to the kitchen stove. It involves hacking your turkey — quite literally — with a technique known as spatchcocking.
And once you’ve tried it, you’ll never go back!
What the heck is Spatchcocking?
It sounds titillating, but spatchcocking is nothing more than cutting the backbone out of a bird in order to flatten it out. Sometimes the sternum (chest bone) is removed, but in my minimalist kitchen I just lean on the breast to crack the breastbone.
Why, you ask, would one want to do this?
Grilled chicken was the original fast food way back in medieval days, and if you are grilling a bird it is eminently more practical to cook it flat. Everything not only cooks more quickly that way, but also cooks more evenly. Those craving dark meat can dine at the same time as the white meat afficionados.
The bonus for those of us with today’s “mod-cons” is that this method works equally well in the oven — and for poultry of any size or shape. I have spatchcocked everything from turkeys to ducks to quail…and everything in between!
The other (and in my mind, more important) reason is the exposed skin to oven ratio is nearly doubled, meaning more crispy skin!
- Acquire a turkey. Somewhere between 10-12 lbs is best. Something that will actually fit on a rimmed cookie sheet or in a large roasting pan.
- Spend the morning with your family and/or friends. Lawn bowling or croquet are quite nice at this time of the year (at least in my neck of the woods).
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
- Get yourself a hefty pair of sharp kitchen shears. They need to be able to cut through bone. This can be done with a sturdy chef’s knife, but kitchen shears are much easier.
- Take all the bits (gizzards, necks, etc.) out of the turkey. You can put these in the bottom or your roasting pan with a couple of thick onion slices to help with the gravy.
- Place the turkey breast side up.
- Flip the turkey over so the backbone is facing up.
- Starting at the pope’s nose (or tail), cut up one side of the backbone and down the other to completely remove it.
- Flip the turkey over and let the legs “splay” out.
- Pretend you are giving the turkey CPR, and give it a couple of chest compressions until you hear the breastbone crack.
- Slather the turkey with a coating of oil or butter (your preference). Season liberally and place in the oven.
- Roast for approximately 70-90 minutes — until the thigh meat registers 160 degrees. Cover it loosely with foil and let it rest about 15 minutes before carving while you fuss with the vegetables, toss the salad, and make the gravy.
But what about the stuffing?
Stuffing the turkey merely slows down the whole process, and there is always more than one way to get your stuffing fix. Sure, you get moist stuffing, but in the back of your mind there will always be the lingering question as to whether the innermost reaches of the turkey actually cooked enough to avoid food poisoning. If you like moist stuffing, douse your cornbread with a liberal mixture of eggs and buttermilk before popping it in the oven.
After you get the turkey in the oven, you can easily get a batch of cornbread-sausage stuffing going on the stovetop, and finish it in the oven in a covered casserole dish while the turkey is cooking.
Now that you’ve been introduced to spatchcocking, try it out with poultry of all kinds. And remember…it works in the oven, but works equally well on the grill for your summer barbecuing. Try it for Easter dinner as a warm-up for all those backyard summer parties coming up.
(Photo credit: Spatchcock Whole Chicken via Shutterstock)
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