Provençal Herb-Stuffed Spatchcocked Chicken
Back in the 1970s, Frank Stitt traveled to Provence, France, to study with an underground American-expat culinary hero named Richard Olney. While there, Stitt mastered a brilliant solution for the age-old grilled-chicken dilemma: the challenge of taking a bird with a lean breast, fatty legs, and a big empty cavity, and somehow getting crisp skin, juicy meat, and succulent thighs. Here in the States, we typically punt on the issue, cutting our birds into pieces and grilling each separately, then making up for the loss of moisture and shriveled skin by slathering on barbecue sauce. Stitt’s Provence-by-way-of-Birmingham method – spatchcocking (British for flattening) the whole bird, trussing it tight, and stuffing the skin with minced garlic and fresh herbs – transforms that humble chicken into a party dish of unparalleled juiciness and flavor.
• 1 whole chicken
• 1 cup parsley
• Handful of fresh basil leaves
• 3 cloves garlic
• Zest of 1 whole lemon
• 1 tbsp salt
• Fresh black pepper
• 1/2 stick softened unsalted butter
• Butcher’s twine (optional)
Start with a good product, Stitt says, “ideally a bird raised naturally on a local farm. Set the chicken on paper towels over a pan, and store in the fridge for at least a day. This dries out the skin, helping it get crispy later.” If you don’t have time for that, at least blot it dry with paper towels inside and out, and be sure to take it out of the fridge for 1–2 hours before cooking, allowing the meat to come to room temperature.
Cut out the backbone with kitchen shears or a sturdy knife. Turn the chicken onto its back, and, starting at the tail end, where it’s easier to find the bone, cut first along one side of the backbone, then along the other, until you’ve removed the entire thing.
Laying the chicken breast-side up, smash down on the middle of the breast with the palm of your hand, breaking the breastbone and forcing the chicken flat.
With the bird breast-side up, gently rotate the legs out and away from the body until they, too, are skin-side up. Now make a 1-inch incision in the skin, at the bottom of each breast, and tuck the knobby end of each drumstick into these slits. This will hold the bird in a fixed shape that gives it a more even thickness. “A little string probably isn’t a bad idea either,” Stitt says. Use a 2-foot length of kitchen twine or unflavored dental floss to bind the ends of the leg bones tightly together.
Mince the parsley, basil, garlic, and lemon zest. Blend with salt, a few grinds of fresh black pepper, and the softened butter. Then stuff under the skin, smearing it around in there for even distribution. Finally, season the chicken’s exterior with more salt and pepper.
Over the low-heat side of your grill, start the chicken skin-side up, and cover with grill vents open. “This will get some heat going toward the bones without burning the skin,” Stitt says, “and it’s going to take a while, 30–45 minutes.” Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. When the breast meat is about 145° and the thighs are passing 160°, give the chicken a final 5 minutes, skin-side down, directly over your hottest coals, watching carefully to make sure the skin turns a crisp golden brown without burning.
Serve: Transfer the chicken to a cutting board, and let rest for 15 minutes. Cut apart the skin or twine holding the legs together, and then carve the chicken into two drumsticks, two thighs, and four breast halves.