Grilling is a year-round activity for many, but there is something about summertime that makes us yearn for food cooked outdoors like the Grilled Butterflied Chicken with Basil and Mint Vinaigrette shown above. Chicken is the perfect choice for a grilling recipe, as it is incredibly versatile and offers a wealth of flavorful options. In addition to its time-saving benefits, grilling adds bold flavor, promotes healthy eating, and with a few simple guidelines and tips, is inexpensive and easy to master.
If you’re short on time, boneless, skinless breasts or thighs, tenders or wings are ideal. Chicken legs, thighs and quarters require a little more time to cook on the grill, but the delectable payoff is an especially moist and scrumptious meal. If time permits, there’s nothing better than a whole chicken slowly roasted on the grill.
The recipe shared below is an easy, economical way to prepare whole chicken on the grill. When butterflied, chicken cooks more evenly and the final presentation is most impressive. The dish is very economical, serving four people at a cost of $1.77 per serving.
In November, I was an invited regional judge for the National Chicken Cooking Contest. The event was hosted by Perdue Farms at their Innovation Center in Salisbury, Maryland. Three finalists would join six other regional finalists for the May National Cookoff in San Antonio, Texas. During the two-day judging session, I noticed, with judges Jane Milza (N.Y.) and Mariam Rubin (Pa.), a few recipes that called for “spatchcocked” chicken. In its basic form, the word spatchcock means to partially bone and butterfly a whole chicken. It is a term used in Great Britain for preparing fowl like chicken, poussin and quail. Was this to be the beginning of a new American trend?
I often see the term spatchcock in food magazines from Great Britain and Australia. It may have originated in Ireland, according to Alan Davidson in The Oxford Companion to Food (1999 Oxford University Press).
“The theory is that the word is an abbreviation of ‘dispatch the cock,’ a phrase used to indicate a summary way of grilling a bird after splitting it open down the back and spreading the two halves out flat.” Davidson says the technique has been mentioned in Irish cookbooks dating back to the 18th century.
A spatchcocked (or butterflied) bird takes less cooking time, which means the meat won’t dry out as readily. In addition, you can make a pocket between the skin and meat for various stuffings. This adds another delicious layer and helps keep the meat from drying out. In the late Richard Olney’s cookbook, Simple French Food, he stuffs a flattened chicken with a flavorful mixture of ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese and shredded zucchini. The stuffing can be as simple though, as a blend of fresh herbs.
British food writers say this easy recipe was favored by army officers who were sent to India by sea, a trip that entailed a long voyage of several weeks. Chicken coops were kept on board for preparing grilled, spatchcocked chicken.
To butterfly (or spatchcock) a whole chicken, remove the backbone of a whole, fresh chicken by cutting down either side of the bone with a sharp knife, and cut out the backbone. You can also use a pair of poultry sheers or sturdy kitchen scissors. The chicken is ready for marination then cooking.
The recipe for Grilled Butterflied Chicken with Basil and Mint Vinaigrette instructs you to take an additional step by cutting out the breastbone, before opening up and flattening the chicken. Brine the butterflied chicken in a mixture of salt and sugar water, to give the meat added juice and flavor. Place the chicken on the grill and cook, turning once or twice, for a total of about 30 minutes.
While the meat is cooking, making a fresh vinaigrette by combining lemon juice, soy sauce, honey, garlic, fresh ginger, red pepper flakes, mint, basil and olive oil. Pour the vinaigrette over the hot, plated chicken as soon as it comes off of the grill.
Serve with sliced roasted potatoes or brown rice and a green summer salad. Whether you call it butterflied or spatchcocked, your family and guests are sure to love this delicious, herb-scented grilled chicken dish.
Grilled Butterflied Chicken with Basil and Mint Vinaigrette
1 whole chicken, 3 ½ – 4 pounds
4 quarts water
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoon honey
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 teaspoon fresh ginger, chopped
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
2 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
Make brine by combining water, sugar and salt in large stockpot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 10 minutes, or until sugar and salt are dissolved. Remove from heat and cool completely. Butterfly chicken by removing backbone by cutting down either side of the backbone with a sharp knife. Remove the backbone. Turn chicken over so that rib bones are facing up and cut out breastbone. When brine is cool, add chicken to stockpot and refrigerate at least one, and up to five, hours. Do not brine longer as chicken will become too salty. Remove chicken from brine and pat with paper towels to dry.
Heat grill to high, or, if using coals, heat and arrange with more coals on one side of grill than the other. (This creates two areas of heat – one high and the other cooler.) Place chicken over high heat and grill about 4 minutes per side until nicely browned.
Turn off middle burner of gas grill (or one burner if there are only two) and move chicken over the area that is turned off. Or, if using a charcoal grill, move chicken to cooler area of grill. Grill chicken for another 18 – 20 minutes, turning often, until chicken registers 180 degrees F when a thermometer is inserted into the thickest part of the thigh.
While chicken is grilling, make vinaigrette by combining all ingredients except the oil in a food processor. Pulse to combine. With motor running, slowly pour oil into mixture; continue pulsing until well-incor
porated. Remove chicken to a platter and pour vinaigrette over hot chicken. Turn chicken to coat in sauce.
Nutrition Information, Per Serving:
630 calories; 41 g fat; 10 g saturated fat; 6 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 56 g protein
The flavorful recipe and photo are from The National Chicken Council and U.S. Poultry & Egg Association