Spatchcocked grilled poussin with capers and oregano

I’ll admit it – one of the motives in coming up with this recipe was in ensuring that the first word I typed on Gastronomy Domine in 2010 could be “Spatchcocked”, a word which hasn’t got any less fun since I last typed it.

It being just after the festive season, the shops are still full of meats a little beyond the ordinary, so my local supermarket has shelves full of lovely fatty bacon collars (three are in the fridge at the moment, waiting for a little boiling swim in some Chinese aromatics which will turn them into interesting hams); veal mince (superb in a cottage pie); turkey crowns (I walked straight past these grimacing); pheasant and venison mixtures for stewing; and poussins, ready-spatchcocked.

I really enjoy cooking a bird prepared like this. Cooking times are reduced massively by flattening a bird out, so the meat can be passed very quickly under the grill, leaving you with wonderfully moist meat. If your poussin hasn’t been spatchcocked, it’s very easy to do it yourself – there are instructions here for spatchcocking a full-sized chicken.

I just couldn’t bring myself to go outside into the freezing winter with the barbecue, so I’ve cooked this under the conventional grill rather than over charcoal. If you’re in a position to use charcoal here, please do – it’ll be delicious.

Reckon to serve one poussin per person (try saying that after a glass of post-festive Prosecco – incidentally, Prosecco is a very nice match to this dish with its Italian aromatics). Some packaging will suggest that one bird will serve two. It won’t. They’re small, they’re bony and they’re fiddly to eat. Much better to serve a generous whole poussin to each person than to find yourselves squabbling over too little food. To marinade two flattened-out baby birds, you’ll need:

75ml extra-virgin olive oil
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
1 bunch (about 15g) fresh oregano, chopped finely
3 tablespoons capers, chopped finely
4 fat cloves garlic, crushed
1 heaped teaspoon Italian chilli flakes (use more or less according to how spicy you fancy it)
1 teaspoon salt
A generous grinding of pepper

Mix all the marinade ingredients and smear them all over the poussins in a large bowl. Refrigerate for 24 hours with a cover, turning a few times.

When you are ready to cook, position the birds on a rack under a hot grill, as far from the element as possible, skin-side down. Spoon over some of the marinade and grill the non-skin side for about 12 minutes. Flip the poussins over so the skin is uppermost, baste with some more marinade, and cook for another 12 minutes, until the skin is golden brown. Check the meat is cooked through by piercing a thigh at the thickest part – the juices should run clear. if the juices are bloody, leave the birds under the grill for another five minutes and repeat the test.

Sprinkle the cooked poussins with a little more oregano, and serve with buttered rice and a sharp salad.

How to spatchcock a chicken

We’ve been promised something called a ‘barbecue summer’ by the Met Office this year, so I thought I’d go with the flow and bombard you with some barbecue recipes – I’m a big fan of charcoal. There’s a recipe for a whole barbecued Thai chicken coming up tomorrow (here it is), but before you cook it, you’ll need to learn how to spatchcock the bird (removing its breastbone and backbone) so that it’ll lie flat on the grill to cook evenly. It’s much easier than you’d think, and all you’ll need is a pair of stout kitchen scissors (or, better, poultry shears) and a sharp knife – here’s how you do it.

Start by putting the bird back-side up, feeling for the spine of the chicken and cutting with the shears or scissors immediately to the right of it, all the way along the bird. Snip through the ribs as you go – they’re not very tough.

Repeat to the left of the spine and lift out the whole backbone. Don’t chuck it out – pop it in a saucepan with the other bits you’re going to be removing from the bird, and make stock.

Pull the legs apart and look into the cavity of the chicken. You’ll see the arrow-shaped breast bone (the bit my knife is pointing at in this picture). Slip your knife all the way around it, loosening it from the surrounding flesh.

Pull the breastbone out of the bird (the whole thing – it widens and goes all the way to the end of the chicken). You might need your scissors again to release it from the breastmeat.

And you’re done. Your finished chicken will be lovely and rubbery and foldy, ideal for marinating and grilling. Pop back tomorrow for marinade and cooking instructions.