Chicken Under A Brick is a spatchcocked or butterflied bird (they mean the same thing) cooked under a weight so it remains flat and cooks evenly. Part of the pleasure of spatchcocking is just saying it. “Darling, we’re spatchcocking poussin tonight.” Doesn’t that sound like heaps more fun than, “Sweetie, it’s butterflied chicken night,”? I am not alone. Spatchcock is one of those words that sets the hearts of etymologists aflutter, and propositions abound concerning its origins. This much is certain: the English use spatchcock to indicate a chicken under six weeks old, the equivalent of a French poussin. As a verb, on both sides of the Atlantic, it means to remove the backbone and flatten the chicken, making it easier to grill or roast. Its earliest appearance in print is in an 18th-century Irish cookbook, where it’s a recommended method of grilling poultry. But asking how the word came to be–who are its parents, aunts and uncles, distant relations–is to dive into a tangle of linguistic geneology. One theory holds that spatchcock is a shortened form of “dispatch the cock,” with its multiple meanings of killing/prepping, and to happen quickly. Another etymology sees it as a variation of “spitchcock,” an English technique for grilling eels on a spit (nobody can say where “spitchcock” comes from). A particularly evocative Victorian version of the “dispatch the cock” school maintains that the word originated in the long sea voyages from England to India (posh passengers), when coops of chickens would be kept on board. To relieve the tedium of the sea passages at sea and the monotony of a shipboard diet chickens would periodically be brought on deck and, to the amusement and anticipation of salivating passengers, partially deboned, flattened and quickly grilled.
Whatever its origins, spatchcocking chicken is simple and useful, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to cook. All it requires is a pair of heavy-duty kitchen scissors or poultry sheers. The result is a juicy chicken with the crispiest skin you’ve ever tasted.